More information is surfacing about the deadly fire that consumed the Grand Diamond City Casino & Hotel in Cambodia and needlessly claimed countless lives. And much of what is being said paints a picture of inevitable destruction and chaos.
The fire broke out late Wednesday night before rapidly spreading through the 17-story structure. Authorities and rescue personnel are still on the scene, and still haven’t recovered all of the bodies.
So far, as of Friday morning, there are at least 27 casualties and over 100 injured, some in grave condition. In addition, there are at least 20 people still missing out of the more than 400 that were at the resort in the city of Poipet at the time.
Disturbing Past Emerges
The Grand Diamond, along with the Poipet Resort & Casino, is owned by Grand Exclusive Poipet Cambodia. The owner of that company, according to the Bangkok Post, is Vatana Asavahame, a fugitive from justice in Thailand.
The media outlet reports that the 86-year-old former cabinet minister has been on the run for about 14 years. In 2008, a Thai court convicted him of corruption in a case involving a wastewater treatment plant, but he allegedly escaped to Cambodia.
Five years later, Vatana received an acquittal from the Thai Supreme Court. However, it wouldn’t last forever after appeals kept the scandal in the spotlight.
In 2018, per Nation Thailand, the Supreme Court sentenced him to three years in prison in absentia. During that time, however, he had allegedly built the two casinos in Cambodia and wasn’t going anywhere.
Last year, Vatana allegedly tried to sell his casinos for THB12 billion (US$374 million). Nation Thailand explained that he confirmed the desire to sell to Thai media; however, there are no details on whether or not he found a buyer.
Although pure conjecture, a desire to sell could have led to apathy regarding the maintenance of the property. This could, in turn, lead to lax safety protocols, which could facilitate a tragedy like the one that just occurred.
In addition, multiple media outlets have reported that the casino used a central locking system for the doors to the hotel rooms. This proved to be a disastrous move, regardless of its advanced security implications.
After the resort lost power, the doors no longer worked. Guests were trapped inside their rooms with no way to escape the out-of-control blaze.
Tracing the Source
There have been reports that the deadly fire began in a restaurant, with some media outlets mentioning a possible explosion of a gas tank. However, more precise details won’t be available until a thorough investigation is completed.
One employee who spoke to Agence France-Presse anonymously said that the fire was small at first before getting out of control. That would seem to indicate a possible lack of rudimentary firefighting equipment, such as fire extinguishers, and employee training.
At least 19 dead, 30 injured in Cambodia casino fire pic.twitter.com/soCLpM9gRU
— Radio Free Asia (@RadioFreeAsia) December 29, 2022
The blaze quickly expanded, fueled by gusty winds. By Thursday morning, when firefighters finally brought it under control, the true amount of devastation began to be revealed.
However, rescue personnel have had difficulty exploring the wreckage to look for survivors or victims. The building is in shambles, and pushing deeper inside the casino puts them at even greater risk. At the end of the day on Thursday, they still were not able to safely enter the structure.
Investigators are now questioning witnesses while fire inspectors begin slowly sifting through the remains of the structures. Cambodian government authorities are keeping a close eye on the situation and have promised to hold accountable anyone who may be responsible for allowing the tragedy to occur.
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