Death toll in Cambodia building collapse rises to 36 as search ends

Cambodian rescue teams searching for missing workers at the site of a collapsed building at a construction site in Kep province, on Jan 5, 2019.
Cambodian rescue teams searching for missing workers at the site of a collapsed building at a construction site in Kep province, on Jan 5, 2019.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

PHNOM PENH  (AP, AFP) - The death toll from the collapse of a building under construction in southern Cambodia rose to 36 on Sunday (Jan 5), even as an additional survivor was pulled from the rubble, officials said.

At least a dozen bodies were found in overnight operations at the site in the coastal province of Kep, where the building toppled on Friday.  Prime Minister Hun Sen announced the end of the rescue operation. 

Twenty-three people were found alive, according to a statement from Kep provincial authorities. It said that at least 13 women and six children were among the dead. Women are often employed as construction workers in Cambodia and neighbouring Thailand, but families of workers also often live at the construction sites. 

In a news conference, Mr Hun Sen said the couple who owned the building and hired the construction crew had been detained and sent to court to face charges. He did not specify the charges. 

Kep provincial authorities said earlier that a committee had been formed to officially investigate the cause of the accident, which a provincial police official earlier said occurred when concrete was being poured on its top level. 

The survivor found on Sunday morning was a young woman pulled from the rubble by members of Rapid Rescue Company 711, a military unit that is the country’s elite specialised emergency rescue team. 

Mr Hun Sen posted a video of the rescue on his Facebook page. He travelled to the site on Friday “to lead the rescue team,’’ he announced on Facebook. He also visited the provincial hospital where the injured were being treated. 

Cambodia is undergoing a construction boom, with hotels, high rises and casinos springing up under little regulatory oversight.

The tough - and often dangerous - work is undertaken by an estimated 200,000 construction workers, mostly unskilled, reliant on day wages and not protected by union rules, according to the International Labour Organisation.

Worker advocacy groups point to low safety standards that raise the risk of accidents at construction sites - which often serve as the temporary homes for the labourers and their families. 

 
 
 

Worker Ei Kosal told AFP on Saturday that he, his wife and two other women were having a meal at the site when the building collapsed. Their two companions were crushed and immediately killed.

"I did not expect to survive... It's like I have just been reborn," Mr Kosal said while recuperating at the hospital.

Last June, a seven-storey building collapsed in Sihanoukville, another coastal area, leaving at least 28 people dead and 26 injured. 

In December, a Buddhist temple collapsed while under construction in Siem Reap, home of Cambodia’s famed Angkor temples, killing at least three people and injuring 13, including two monks.