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Kep death toll reaches 36, governor to keep position

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Prime Minister Hun Sen visits a victim retrieved from the debris of a six-storey building collapse in Kep province. Heng Chivoan

Kep death toll reaches 36, governor to keep position

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Sunday said no official would be dismissed for the six-storey building collapse that killed 36 people and injured 23 others in Kep province on Friday.

Hun Sen made the remarks as he wrapped up a rescue operation that took 43 hours and 20 minutes and ended on Sunday noon.

Addressing reporters at the scene, the prime minister said a total of 59 people were uncovered from the debris, 22 of them women. Among the 23 survivors were a child and eight women. The dead included 14 women and five children, he said.

During the rescue operation, Hun Sen said besides prioritising the search for survivors, the authorities were also careful in retrieving the bodies from the debris to prevent them from being dismembered.

The prime minister said he had received around $1.7 million in donations. He also thanked Chinese specialists from Preah Sihanouk province for joining in the operation and requested them to provide training to Cambodian rescue teams.

While commending the authorities, including doctors for their efforts in the rescue operation, Hun Sen said he would not sack the Kep provincial governor Ken Satha for the tragic incident.

“I want to make it clear now to avoid any doubts. The Kep governor and officials within the provincial administration will not be fired.

“A political party leader recently posted a message [on social media] saying this incident is similar to that in Preah Sihanouk province that led to the resignation of the governor.

“Then he posted another message, so I replied in my comment that he should not push too hard,” Hun Sen said without naming the politician.

“I want to stress that such a building collapse happens not only in Cambodia. You can see the broadcast I shared. How many such incidents happened around the world including in the US in 2019?

“I will review [social media] comments made by government officials who linked fishery issues and others to this building collapse in a bid to push me to fire the governor,” he said.

He cited three separate incidents including a hotel collapse in the US, a museum blaze in Paris and ongoing bushfires in Australia, where no one was held accountable.

“Let me ask you, the Australian prime minister took his children to the US while wildfires are happening in the country. He was widely condemned, but has he resigned?”

Hun Sen said there were two reasons behind the building collapse in Kep. First, he said the construction manager did not follow the building plan, having used metal bars smaller than what was recommended.

Second, he said the materials used to support each concrete floor were removed within 10 days of being filled with concrete, rather than in 20 days as per standard practice.

The construction manager and their children also died in the incident, he said.

On Saturday, the National Police said the construction owners, Ek Sarun and his wife Chhiv Sothy, were held for questioning. Hun Sen said besides legal repercussions, the couple will also be made to compensate the victims.

He said the families of the dead would each receive $50,000 plus $2,500 for funeral expenses, while the injured would each receive $10,000.

He said the seven severely injured victims would receive $20,000 each. Some families who have lost their breadwinners would receive additional support, he said.

The prime minister urged the relevant authorities to prevent such incidents by enforcing the construction law that came into effect two months ago.

On Friday, the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction formed a committee to probe the construction incident. The Post could not reach ministry spokesman Seng Lot for comment on Sunday.

Chhorn Phally, one of the survivors from Banteay Meanchey province, told The Post she was on the ground floor when the six-storey building collapsed.

After being trapped for two nights, she became worn out and could no longer shout for help even when an excavator got close to her. She said she was lucky to be able to use her foot to push the soil up and was eventually retrieved from the debris.

“Before the incident, I was sitting with three people. At 4:21pm, I told them I needed to go cook dinner. But the building collapsed just before I stood up and I fell to the ground. Suddenly, everything turned into complete darkness and I thought I became blind because my eyes were filled with soil.

“I lost my 18-year-old son. He was sitting on a motorbike playing games. His body was the last to be found.

“While trapped there, I didn’t think I would be saved because the cement was solid and there were many layers above me. I lost hope and said goodbye to my parents [in my mind].

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