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Cambodia casino fire death toll reaches 26 as search called off

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The death toll from Thursday’s fire that destroyed a hotel and casino complex in Cambodia rose to 26 as rescuers ended searches on Friday.

Hundreds of people are believed to have been inside the Grand Diamond City site, located in the northwestern town of Poipet within sight of the Thai border when the fire broke out late Wednesday night.

“The death toll is 26, including 21 Thais,” said Sik Sukhum, director of information management in Banteay Meanshi Province. He said some of the bodies found were found in staircases.

Sek Sukhum said the search was over because “rescuers had reached all the parts that we thought might contain victims.”

Grieving families told AFP they were struggling to comprehend the scale of the disaster. One mother said she was unable to eat because she was overwhelmed by the loss of her son.

Pictures and videos from the site showed people gathering on window sills to escape from the flames, and one of the rescuers told AFP he saw people jumping desperately from the roof as the fire approached.

Hundreds of Cambodian soldiers and police officers, along with volunteers from Thailand, worked all day, as smoke was still rising from the building, before calling off the search as night fell.

The search has been slowed by concerns that the building is unsafe, and a volunteer from the Thai rescue group, the Poh Teck Tung Foundation, described the building as unstable.

Many of the injured were taken to Thailand for treatment. Thai officials said more than 50 were taken to hospital, 13 of them in critical condition.

‘laden’

Grieving mother Kirati Kiwatt said her 23-year-old son was in the building when the fire broke out.

“He got stuck inside and couldn’t get out,” the 55-year-old told AFP from a makeshift information centre.

She said, “I can’t eat, and I only slept an hour.” “I’m so tired.”

“Nyong’o,” a 42-year-old casino worker who gave only his surname, said he had fallen asleep in the complex but managed to get out, though his father was out of luck.

He said his father, who was playing at the casino, managed to help two women get to safety.

“But in helping them, he used too much energy and the smoke choked him,” he said.

His father was then trapped in a room with others but was still able to call until around 3am

“After that I lost contact with my father, I lost hope,” he said. “Now, I just want to have his body.”

The complex is one of many in Poipet, a border town popular with Thais who face severe restrictions on gambling within their country.

Tuk-tuk driver Thetinon Thongking told AFP the terrifying fire was an indication of the loose safety standards in Poipet.

“I’m worried about everything there. It’s out of control,” said the 48-year-old, who lives on the Thai side.

The Thai Foreign Ministry said it was working closely with Cambodian authorities to find and identify the Thais involved in the incident and would send additional equipment, consular officers and a police attaché to Poipet.

Gambling by Cambodians is also illegal, but many casino hotspots have thrived along the borders with Thailand and Vietnam.

‘Tragedy’

A Grand Diamond City worker, who asked not to be identified because it might affect her job, told AFP she was working on the third floor of the hotel’s 17-story suite when the fire started.

“At first, it wasn’t a wildfire,” she said, but she and a female colleague were soon forced to flee outside.

“It got worse very quickly,” she said, still traumatized by the death and destruction.

Other casino employees said they had no choice but to continue working despite their concerns.

“I will continue with my job because it is not easy to look for other jobs,” said a 30-year-old man who worked at a nearby gambling establishment.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen expressed condolences to the families of the victims on Friday, calling it a “tragedy” and vowing to station fire engines near all tall buildings.

There is still no indication of the cause of the blaze, the latest in a series of fires to hit popular entertainment establishments in an area where there have long been concerns about lax safety standards.

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