Thursday, January 01, 2009

New Year's Horror

Scores die in crowded Bangkok nightclub fire, kills 59
- A fierce fire ripped through a popular nightclub in the Thai capital Bangkok early Thursday as people were celebrating New Year, killing at least 59 people and injuring 184, police said. The blaze broke out after a pyrotechnic display at the Santika club in the city's Ekkamai district, a thronging entertainment area frequented by locals and tourists. It was not clear if any foreigners were among the dead.
The two-storey club was completely gutted by the fire, with the front of the building blackened and partially collapsed, an AFP correspondent said. Around 30 charred bodies were still inside the structure hours after the inferno. "It appears that the fire started from the area of the stage where a band was playing. There were some pyrotechnics and it appears that they started the blaze," Police Lieutenant Colonel Prawit Kantwol told AFP. "Most of the victims died from suffocation but some were also killed in a stampede when people were trying to get out," he said.
Almost all the dead were on the ground floor, where the stage was located. Local police commander Colonel Suphin Sapphuang told AFP 59 people had been confirmed dead so far -- 53 at the scene and six succumbed later in hospital. At least 184 people were injured, emergency services at the scene told AFP, and had been rushed to 14 hospitals around the capital suffering burns and smoke inhalation.
The club, which is popular with Bangkok's elite, has a capacity of 1,000 people but it was not clear how many were in there at the time of the blaze. Fire brigade officials said the death toll was made worse because there were few exits from the building and because windows on the upper floors had iron bars across them.
"There was only one main way to get out from the front. People who worked there were able to escape from the back because they knew the exits but the others had no chance," senior fireman Wacharatpong Sri-Saard said at the scene. Some victims were trapped in the basement of the club, which was accessed via a narrow stairwell, he said. The roof of the building had also collapsed during the blaze.
Police said the fire broke out between midnight and 1:00am, shortly after revellers had celebrated the passing of the New Year, but had now been extinguished. Several dozen relatives, friends and bystanders remained outside what was left of the venue, trying to get information about loved ones from the emergency services.
Fire brigade officials and forensic police could be seen entering the club in an effort to establish exactly what had caused the fire, as the remains of charred furniture and equipment littered the ground outside. A billboard advertising the club's New Year party with the logo "Goodbye Santika" and the names of DJs playing at the event was still displayed on the street outside hours after the blaze. (AFP via MSN)

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