'Smoke everywhere': survivors of Cambodia casino blaze recount chaotic scenes

By Jiraporn Kuhakan

ARANYAPRATHET, Thailand (Reuters) - When Nunthida Kongreung heard a huge fire had broken out at a Cambodian border town casino-hotel, she started calling her parents who were on vacation there, but nobody answered.

When finally someone called back, it was a rescue worker who had found their bodies, slumped against each other in their hotel room on the 17th floor, where they died from smoke inhalation.

Her parents were among at least 27 people who died in the blaze at Grand Diamond City Casino and Hotel, which also injured more than 100 people. At least 20 remain missing.

The cause of the fire, which broke out around midnight on Wednesday, is still unknown but officials suspect it may have been due to an electrical short circuit.

"The rescuers said my parents were not burned, but they choked from inhaling smoke. So, if help had come earlier they might have survived," Nunthida, 36, said at a hospital on the Thai side of the border where many of the dead and injured were taken.

One survivor recounted seeing a light fixture throw off sparks that then caused flames to reach the ceiling, according to Thai broadcaster Channel 7.

"Then it started getting chaotic. After the fire hit the ceiling, I don't think it was ok. It had gone on for half an hour and the fire trucks hadn't arrived.

"Just after five minutes, there was smoke everywhere," said Piyapol Sukkaew, a patron who was on the casino floor at the time.

Like most of the victims, Nunthida's parents, Puttika and Udon, were Thai nationals. Both were retired and liked to travel to nearby places for vacations, she said.

Casinos in Poipet and other Cambodian towns are popular with short-term visitors from Asian countries that ban gambling, like Thailand.

(Additional reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng in Bangkok; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Martin Petty)