59 Died in New Year’s 2009 Club Fire in Bangkok, Thailand

| January 1, 2009

Bangkok Fire Death New Year 2009

When many people around the world celebrating the happy new year 2009 with happiness and joy, there are bad news happening on this city of Bangkok. This is the details of the news.

BANGKOK – A fire raced through a two-story nightclub packed with hundreds of well-heeled New Year’s revelers early Thursday, killing at least 59 people as they stampeded to escape the flames, officials said. More than 200 were injured.

The cause of the fire in a Bangkok entertainment district was under investigation but several witnesses said a fireworks display during the New Year’s countdown ignited the blaze. “Everybody was pushing against each other trying to get out to the front door as quickly as possible. I saw people, particularly young girls, being pushed away and crushed underneath as others were stomping on them trying to get out,” said Sompong Tritaweelap, who lives in an apartment behind the nightclub.

Victims died from burns, smoke inhalation and injuries during the stampede from the club, which had only one door for the public, police Maj. Gen. Chokchai Deeprasertwit said. Firefighters said a door at the rear was known only to the staff, while an Associated Press reporter saw a third door at one side of the building.

Video footage of the disaster showed bloodied, bruised and burned victims being dragged out of the burning, two-story club or managing to run through the door or shattered windows. The video — provided to AP Television News by rescue workers — showed flames racing through the entire building even as the rescue operation was going on. Sompong said that the first engulfed the entire building within 10 minutes.

“People were screaming for help from every window. It was a terrible sight. Their hair and clothes were on fire but there was nothing they could do as the fire engulfed them,” he said.

The Narenthorn Emergency Center, which was coordinating relief efforts, said 59 people died, with eight of the bodies burned beyond recognition, and another 203 were injured.

Foreigners Killed
It was unclear how many foreigners were among the casualties. Police Lt. Gen. Jongrak Jutanont was quoted by the Web site of The Nation newspaper as saying most of those killed were foreigners, and included tourists from Austria, Japan and Nepal.

Bangkok Fire Death New Year 2009 2

An Associated Press photographer saw the bodies of at least 10 foreigners from the fire at the police morgue but authorities did not provide immediate identification and some rescue workers said that they saw mainly Asians among the dead.

A joint roster provided by Bangkok hospitals showed that three Japanese, two South Koreans and one Singaporean were treated while another Singaporean identified as Teo Sze Siong had died. The names of seven other foreigners were posted, but no nationalities were given.

One of the Japanese, Wada Keiichi, 25, was in a coma and suffering from burns over 60 percent of his body, doctors said. A number of foreigners were among the casualties at the Santika Club, which attracted an affluent crowd of young Thais and foreigners. Hospital rosters showed that 13 foreigners being treated for injuries and one man, a Singaporean national, had died.

Fireworks Behind Fire?
Chokchai said the fire may have been caused by sparks flying from a New Year’s countdown display on the nightclub stage. The Web site of The Nation newspaper quoted one partygoer, Somchai Frendi, as saying the blaze was caused when the countdown fireworks ignited the second floor ceiling, which was made largely of soundproofing material. Sompong quoted a maid at the club as giving a similar account.

“Some of the sparks fell onto the carpeted floor as well. Within seconds, smoke was everywhere,” he quoted her as saying. Jongrak said the initial investigation found that the club’s safety system was “sub-standard” but did not elaborate. The club was packed with about 1,000 celebrants, police officers at the scene said. Rescue workers said most of the bodies were found in a pit area surrounding the stage. The corpses, placed in white body bags, were laid out in rows in the parking lot in front of the club, which was strewn with shoes of the victims, water bottles, parking stickers and other debris.

Traffic Delayed Rescue
The emergency workers said the rescue operation was delayed in part because of heavy traffic in the Ekamai entertainment district. Firefighter Watcharapong Sri-saard said that in addition to a lack of exits, a number of staircases inside the club as well as bars across the second-floor windows made escape difficult. An AP reporter who peered inside the still-burning building said everything in sight had been burned. One Web site about Bangkok’s entertainment scene described the club as attracting “an affluent Thai student crowd, with Euro models and Westerners also popping in” with a “whisky-sipping crowd all focused on a large stage.” Another site said the high ceiling and a cross in the main room made one feel “like walking into a church.”

Just after dawn, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva visited the still-smoldering club but did not talk to reporters. Safety regulations are often loosely enforced. Thailand passed a law in 1994 requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets, but bareheaded riders with policemen blithely looking on are a common sight on Bangkok’s streets today.

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Category: South East Asia