Fire which destroyed the Grand Diamond casino in the Cambodian city of Poipet has left over 100 people seriously injured and at least 21 dead after it flared up following a gas explosion on Wednesday night. On Thursday morning, Thai state agencies responded with fire crews and helicopters in a desperate effort to save trapped Thai nationals and bring the inferno under control as it threatened further loss of life with many people trapped on higher floors of the building amid a raging inferno.

On Thursday, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha ordered all state agencies to assist Cambodian authorities in response to a disastrous conflagration in the city of Poipet across the Thai border from Sa Kaeo Province in Cambodia’s Banteay Meanchey’s province which saw at least 21 Thai nationals perish with fears that the number could go higher with 13 confirmed on life support systems in Sa Kaeo Province alone as the scale of the disaster becomes apparent. The blaze which engulfed the Grand Diamond Casino owned by a fugitive former cabinet minister who fled Thailand in 2008, has also left hundreds injured after raging for over 12 hours.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha on Thursday ordered every possible assistance to Cambodian authorities and those injured, mainly Thai nationals, in a fire which engulfed a huge casino complex in Poipet on Wednesday night and raged into Thursday. At least 21 Thai nationals are reported dead so far. 108 people are being treated in hospitals in Sa Kaeo Province according to the local governor.

On a day when Thailand sent firefighters police, soldiers and rescue workers across the border to help Cambodian authorities deal with the aftermath of a huge fire in the gambling city of Poipet comes the devastating news that at least 21 Thai nationals have died in the fire which destroyed the famous Grand Diamond Casino just opposite the checkpoint on the Thai Cambodian border across from Aranyaprathet in Sa Kaeo Province and its well-known checkpoint.

This figure is expected to rise inexorably with over a dozen people being placed on life support systems on the Thai side of the border and the possibility of further remains being found in the ruins of the huge casino complex which was gutted by the fire.

Prime Minister’s Office orders all agencies to assist with the rescue and care of survivors from the fire which saw eastern Thai hospitals inundated

Earlier on Thursday, a spokesman for Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha, Anucha Burapachaisri, at Government House in Bangkok, emphasised an order from him that every possible assistance was to be given by state agencies in Thailand to those impacted by the fire including dozens of injured people who were initially brought across the border back into Thailand for treatment at Thai hospitals in Sa Kaeo Province, Chonburi and Rayong during the day.

‘The Prime Minister is concerned about the Thai people affected by the fire incident. He has instructed relevant agencies to accelerate assistance, take care of Thai people who are affected, stranded, lost or injured with full force,’ announced Mr Anucha.

However, later the Prime Minister’s Office initially denied any knowledge of a coordination centre which was reported to have been established to effectively manage further assistance to the expanding rescue operation on Thursday in response to the disaster.

The larger proportion of people who were injured were Thai nationals.

Fears the death toll may rise far higher with over one hundred injured, many put on ventilator machines

It is still feared the death toll will rise higher as rescue workers begin to comb the burned-out shell of the 7-story Grand Diamond Casino which was destroyed in the conflagration which broke out late on Wednesday night and raged into Thursday afternoon fought by local fire services and crews from Thailand including firefighters and later rescue volunteers who travelled into Poipet to assist Cambodian authorities.

The Grand Diamond, owned by a former Thai cabinet minister and political bigwig in Samut Prakan who fled to Cambodia in 2008 following a Supreme Court decision to convict him on corruption charges was the larger of two resorts owned by him.

The Grand Diamond City Hotel and Casino, employing mainly Thai staff and which was a popular attraction for Thai gamblers and visitors to a nearby cross-border market in Cambodia, was situated on 170 rai of land while its sister resort, the Poipet Resort occupied 20 rai nearby.

Former Thai politician, Deputy Minister of the Interior and fugitive is the owner of the famous casino

Both ventures were operated on a lifetime licence granted by the Cambodian government to 86-year-old Vatana Asavahame, a former politician from Samut Prakan who once served as Deputy Minister of the Interior and who was sentenced to 6 years in prison in 2008 over corruption related to a mega construction project paid for by public funds.

It was reported in recent times that the two business concerns were for sale with a price tag of ฿12 billion with Mr Vatana saying there had been a marked downturn in the business because of the pandemic closure of Thailand’s border with Cambodia. 

The fire is reported to have begun with a gas explosion in the building and was fuelled by the luxury furnishings in the opulent hotel and casino.

Dramatic scenes as Thai security and emergency services crossed the border in response to urgent calls for help on Thursday to a fast-moving disaster 

On Thursday, Thai guests at the hotel told of being woken early in the morning and running out at short notice to escape the inferno while firefighters went through the building with crowbars to gain access to key areas and ensure as many people were delivered to safety as possible.

The scale of the disaster saw helicopters called in at the same time as assistance began to arrive in force from Thai authorities across the border.

There were numerous reports of trapped gamblers on the roof of the hotel who jumped to avoid the flames as well as others including Thai occupants who perished in the inferno.

The blaze produced alarming online videos showing huddled groups on the ledges of the building at a height as ferocious flames approached them while one showed a man trapped in a hotel bedroom with billowing black smoke.

Most of those who died or were injured are Thais according to Sa Kaeo Province Governor Parinya Phothisa, Cambodians also crossed into Thailand

Officials at the Thai Ministry of Public Health led by Dr Opas Karnkawinpong took control of the operation to find bed spaces for injured Thais and other nationalities who were transported across the border with injuries quickly filling the hospitals in Aranyaprathet and later encompassing hospitals across the eastern provinces.

On Thursday evening, the scale of the disaster was becoming more apparent with Sa Kaeo Province Governor Parinya Phothisa telling AFP the French news agency that over 100 people were hospitalised in Sa Kaeo Province alone with 13 of these on life support and ventilation systems.

These included 73 Thai nationals, over 30 from Cambodia and 8 from Indonesia.

Main casino complex gutted and ready to fall down

The casino complex had a seven-story casino building with a seventeen-story VIP building opposite it connected by a pedestrian bridge.

The seven-story casino building was fully gutted in the fire and was reported to be on the verge of falling on Thursday when the fire also spread to the building opposite causing extensive damage.

The scale of the disaster saw rescuers coming from Thailand into Cambodia, including soldiers, police and emergency first responders, to assist wherever possible in the life-saving efforts as many of those trapped or injured were Thai nationals who were either customers of the casino or working in it.

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