Death toll rises amid search at Cambodia building collapse site

A Cambodian rescue team (above) searching yesterday for missing workers at the site of the collapsed seven-storey building. (Below) A woman sobbing at a hospital after learning that her niece had died in the tragedy. A provincial official said "teams
A Cambodian rescue team (above) searching yesterday for missing workers at the site of the collapsed seven-storey building. PHOTOS: EPA-EFE
A Cambodian rescue team (above) searching yesterday for missing workers at the site of the collapsed seven-storey building. (Below) A woman sobbing at a hospital after learning that her niece had died in the tragedy. A provincial official said "teams
A woman sobbing at a hospital after learning that her niece had died in the tragedy. A provincial official said "teams have searched about 40 per cent of the debris", prompting concerns that the death toll will rise.PHOTOS: EPA-EFE

At least 18 bodies found; 3 China nationals and a local landowner held for questioning

PHNOM PENH • Rescue workers yesterday picked through the rubble of a collapsed Chinese-owned building in a Cambodian beach town in a desperate search for survivors after the construction site accident killed at least 18 people.

The authorities in Sihanoukville yesterday raised the death toll to 18 - including at least three women - with 24 injured.

The once sleepy fishing village has seen a Chinese construction boom, buoyed by tourists to its dozens of casinos in recent years, with questions raised over the speed of development in a nation notorious for lax safety standards.

Three Chinese nationals and a Cambodian landowner have been held for questioning over the building's collapse, which Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen blamed on "carelessness" by the construction company.

At least 1,000 rescue workers, soldiers, police, medics and Chinese construction experts have been deployed to the site.

Some wore hard hats and oxygen tanks as they searched alongside several construction diggers, while the relatives of the injured waited at nearby hospitals for news.

A provincial official said "teams have searched about 40 per cent of the debris", prompting concerns that the death toll will rise.

A Cambodian rescue team carrying the body of a worker who was killed at the site of a collapsed building in the coastal town of Sihanoukville. At least 1,000 rescue workers, soldiers, police, medics and Chinese construction experts have been deployed
TOLL IN CAMBODIAN BUILDING COLLAPSE RISES TO 18: A Cambodian rescue team carrying the body of a worker who was killed at the site of a collapsed building in the coastal town of Sihanoukville. At least 1,000 rescue workers, soldiers, police, medics and Chinese construction experts have been deployed to the construction site. The seven-storey steel and concrete structure collapsed on Saturday, killing at least 18 workers and injuring 24 others. The owner of the building, the head of the construction company and the contractor - all Chinese nationals - have been detained by Cambodian police. The south-western town of Sihanoukville has been flooded with Chinese investments, which sparked a building frenzy to cater to mainland tourists flooding the town's casinos, beaches and glitzy hotels. PHOTO: EPA-EFE 

"We fear more bodies are trapped in the debris because the search has not reached the bottom of the building yet," the official told Agence France-Presse.

It is not clear how many people were at the site at the time of the collapse, but a local official had earlier said there would normally have been about 50 workers on the building site at the time.

Beijing is pouring investment into Cambodia as part of its behemoth Belt and Road Initiative, a sweeping trillion-dollar infrastructure programme across Asia, Africa and Europe. About US$1 billion (S$1.35 billion) was invested in the Preah Sihanouk province between 2016 and last year alone, and there are around 50 Chinese-owned casinos and dozens of hotel complexes under construction in Sihanoukville.

The south-western town of Sihanoukville is awash with Chinese investment that has sparked a building frenzy to cater to mainland tourists flooding the town's city's casinos, beaches and glitzy hotels.

Beijing is pouring investment into Cambodia as part of its behemoth Belt and Road Initiative, a sweeping trillion-dollar infrastructure programme across Asia, Africa and Europe.

About US$1 billion (S$1.35 billion) was invested in the Preah Sihanouk province between 2016 and last year alone, and there are around 50 Chinese-owned casinos and dozens of hotel complexes under construction in Sihanoukville.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has said victims' families would be given US$10,000 each.

"The tragedy of the building collapse in Preah Sihanouk province is painful... for our nation, especially the families of those who lost (their lives)," Mr Hun Sen said.

 

The building was nearly 80 per cent complete when it collapsed around 4am last Saturday.

The owner of the building, the head of the construction firm and the contractor - all Chinese nationals - have been detained by Cambodian police.

A Cambodian landowner has also been held for questioning, and officials said they have launched an investigation.

Though accidents are common at construction sites in Cambodia, where safety laws and labour protections are notoriously lax, Saturday's building collapse is the deadliest in recent memory.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2019, with the headline 'Death toll rises amid search at Cambodia building collapse site'. Print Edition | Subscribe