Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Sihanoukville building collapse death toll rises to 19

Sihanoukville building collapse death toll rises to 19

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Rescue workers search for victims in the debris after an under-construction building collapsed in Sihanoukville on Saturday. At least 19 people have died due to the Chinese-owned building’s collapse. SUN RETHY KUN/AFP

Sihanoukville building collapse death toll rises to 19

Minister of Interior Sar Kheng said on Sunday that the government will act against those responsible for the collapse of a seven-storey building in Sihanoukville on Saturday, which resulted in 19 dead and 24 injured as of Sunday evening.

Sar Kheng said three Chinese nationals and one Cambodian had been arrested and would be sent to court.

Rescue teams were working round-the-clock to rescue victims after the building collapsed in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Workers were staying in the building at the time, with it still under construction and believed to have been 80 per cent complete.

Sar Kheng issued a letter on Sunday offering his condolences to the victims’ families. He also confirmed that authorities are continuing their efforts in the ongoing search and rescue operations.

“I will discover what led to this tragic incident, as well as take action against those responsible in accordance with the law,” the letter read.

Preah Sihanouk provincial police chief Chuon Narin told The Post on Sunday that at least 19 bodies had been found in the rubble, while a further 24 people had been injured in the incident. Rescue teams will continue searching for victims throughout the night, he said.

Narin confirmed that three Chinese nationals and one Cambodian are in the process of being sent to court for their alleged role in the disaster.

“I have arrested four suspects but it is the court’s responsibility to charge them . . . They are the people responsible for this building,” he said.

As of Sunday afternoon, Narin said rescue teams had only searched rubble up to the fifth floor.

“We have dug and searched up to the fourth floor, and we are now doing the fifth floor. Many victims were staying on the third, second and first floors,” Narin said.

One of the injured in hospital, who asked not to be named, said he was among five people resting in a room when it suddenly collapsed. He said all those he was with had made it out of the building alive, but there were many more inside.

The man in his 20s recounted the incident in a video obtained by The Post: “I thought it was the ceiling that collapsed. When I stood up, it suddenly collapsed, and I could only escape because there was a hole between two steel columns that I crawled through.”

An officer stationed at Preah Sihanouk provincial hospital, who also asked not to be named, told The Post on Sunday that rescue teams had transported the bodies of all 18 victims to the provincial hospital.

The families had already come to take the remains home for burial, he said.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Hun Sen offered his condolences to the victims’ families on his Facebook page, also announcing that they would each receive 40 million riel ($10,000) in compensation from the national budget.

All the injured were to receive free treatment at state hospitals, as well as five million riel in compensation, he said.

Cheab Sotheary, Preah Sihanouk province human rights coordinator for rights group Adhoc, told The Post that offering compensation for the victims was a positive measure, but searching for those responsible was of the utmost importance.

She said she did not want to see action taken only against the four Chinese and Cambodian suspects arrested as authorities and others should also be held accountable for the disaster.

“Why did they let this incident happen? The government delegated positions for people to oversee [construction in Sihanoukville], and if this building did not have permission, why did it continue to be built?” Sotheary asked.

The authorities previously told local media that the building in question was owned by Chinese national Ching Korng, and was being illegally constructed on a 583sqm plot.

The authorities had twice tried to stop the building’s construction, but its owner did not cooperate.

Sotheary expressed concerns at how many other buildings under construction in the town did not have permission.

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