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Survivor of fatal SR club fire describes panic

A Cambodian police officer walks into a burnt-out nightclub in Siem Reap province
A Cambodian police officer walks into a burnt-out nightclub in Siem Reap province yesterday during an investigation into the cause of the blaze. AFP

Survivor of fatal SR club fire describes panic

A deadly blaze ripped through a popular Siem Reap nightclub in the early hours of Tuesday morning, killing four Cambodians and an Australian and leaving two seriously injured, Siem Reap deputy governor So Platong said yesterday.

The Hip Hop Club, located on Hospital Street near the Old Market, caught fire at about 2:40am. Ten fire department vehicles battled the blaze for an hour and a half.

The deceased women are Chea Many, 34, Cheng Savien, 33, and one who remains unidentified, while the two men are Cambodian Prum Phiron, 31, and Australian national Tom Ricketson, 32.

While the official cause of the fire has not been found yet, police and local authorities said faulty electrical wiring was likely to blame.

It also appears poor safety standards increased the likelihood of fatalities.

The club had no windows and only one door, which was “way too small for people to escape when the fire happened”, Platong said.

Sun Thouch, who owns a grocery store near the nightclub, said he saw many people run out into the night shouting for help as smoke rose into the air, adding that the venue was ill-fated due its previous noisy disruptions of the nearby Wat Damnak pagoda.

“The pagoda is a quiet place which all Khmer people strictly respect.”

Two women who survived the fire are now staying at the provincial Siem Reap hospital.

Lying on a bed, Ath Sarath, 24, who suffered serious injuries on both hands and light burns on the face, said she didn’t think she was going to survive.

“I did not believe I would be alive right now. The security from the club brought me to hospital at 3am after I found my way out of the blaze,” she said.

Sarath went to the club with her friends at 2am. At first, she sat right outside, but shortly after her friends called her and she went in, the lights went out.

“A lot of smoke appeared and I couldn’t breathe. I ran to find a way out without thinking I would survive. I felt the heat but didn’t see the fire,” she said.

“I took off my shoes and ran, and I felt [myself] step on a dead body. I was so scared.”

Finally, Sarath found her way to the club’s kitchen, where staff sent her to hospital.

People crowd around an ambulance in the aftermath of a nightclub fire in Siem Reap
People crowd around an ambulance in the aftermath of a nightclub fire in Siem Reap yesterday that claimed the lives of five people, including one foreigner. Thik Kaliyann

“I never thought I could sit here to see my daughter and my husband again,” she said.

Sarath added she wanted the owners of the Hip Hop Club to be held responsible for the tragedy.

“It happened to me and I don’t think I can ever forget it.”

While everything inside the club was destroyed by the flames, the building itself still stands.

Yesterday’s fire marks the second deadly blaze to hit Siem Reap since December 2012, when eight people lost their lives when the city’s night market burst into flames.

Platong said he would send a report and see whether the judge will take any action against Hip Hop Club’s owners, who own a range of establishments in Siem Reap, including the Temple bar on tourist hub Pub Street. The owners, brothers Lee Kongvong and Lee Kong Sroun, could not be reached.

Paul Hurford, a former firefighter and director of Firesafe Cambodia, said that while laws exist holding owners responsible for fires, there is no current legislation enforcing Cambodia-specific standards for fire exits, sprinklers and other fire safety provisions.

While the Hip Hop Club was popular with fashionable young Khmers, foreigners often visited as well.

In 2012, Canadian film producer Mitch St Pierre, who uses a wheelchair, was denied entry to the club after being told his disability made him especially vulnerable if a fire or fight broke out, the Post reported.

The body of Tom Ricketson, who was visiting Cambodia during a trip across Southeast Asia, will arrive in Phnom Penh this morning, said James Ricketson, Tom’s Cambodia-based uncle.

Tom was “a lovely, warmhearted, generous, sweet young man”, he said.

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