Deadly fire at Cambodian casino blamed on electrical fault

An electrical fault caused a devastating casino fire that killed 26 people, Cambodian authorities said Saturday, with many of the bodies found in stairways or trapped in rooms after rescuers failed to reach them in time.

The blaze at the Grand Diamond City hotel-casino in Poipet town, near the Thai border, broke out around 11:30 pm local (0430 GMT) on Wednesday night.

It rampaged through the multi-storey casino-hotel complex, with dramatic images and rescuers telling of people forced to jump from ledges and windowsills to escape the flames.

"The accident was caused by an electrical short circuit," said Kun Kim, deputy chairman of the National Committee for Disaster Management.

He confirmed that 26 people -- 17 Thais, one Malaysian, and one Nepalese among them -- died in the blaze.

"Some people were burnt to death, some died because of a lack of oxygen, and some were burnt and died along exit ways," he said.

He said authorities took too long to put out the flames, blaming the hotel-casino's complex layout, as well as a lack of rescue equipment.

Cambodian emergency teams called off their efforts Friday evening as night fell, with Kun Kim confirming teams had searched all of the complex.

Neung, a 42-year-old Thai casino worker who gave only his nickname, said his father died in a hotel room after helping two women to escape.

"But in helping them, he used a lot of energy and was choked by the smoke," he said.

"Now, I only want to have his body," he told AFP on Friday.

Many of the scores injured were being treated by the Thais, who helped Cambodian emergency teams with the search-and-rescue operation.

Thai officials said more than 50 people had been hospitalised, 13 in critical condition on Friday.

Cambodian authorities said they were deliberating over whether charges would be brought against the hotel owners.

ss-rbu/dhc