New Year Inferno at Bangkok Nightclub Kills 58

BANGKOK ~ Police forensic investigators sifted through the charred remains of an upscale Bangkok nightclub on Thursday, seeking clues to a blaze that killed 58 revellers ringing in the New Year and injured 243.

Relatives and friends gathered at Bangkok hospitals and outside the popular nightspot desperate for news of loved ones lost or injured in the inferno that gutted the two-storey building.

Police said a Singaporean national was killed and scores of other foreigners – some from Australia, France, Japan and Britain – were hospitalized.

The blaze apparently broke out after a firework display at the Santika club in the Thai capital’s Ekkamai district, a thronging entertainment hub which is frequented by locals and tourists.

“Police are investigating the incident. It should not take more than two weeks from now to get the result and find the cause of the blaze,” said Police General Jongrak Jutanont, deputy national police commissioner.

Police Lieutenant Colonel Prawit Kantwol earlier said that the likely cause was a pyrotechnics show that accompanied the band.

“Most of the victims died from suffocation, but some were also killed in a stampede when people were trying to get out,” he added.

About 100 people gathered outside the cordoned-off nightclub, an AFP correspondent said, while inside abandoned shoes and broken bottles littered the floor, testament to the panic inside hours earlier.

“I heard that the electricity went out, so they couldn’t find the exit signs to get out,” said Ash Sutton from Australia, who was awaiting news of a friend.

“It’s horrible, horrible… I couldn’t understand why so many people were killed. They must have been trapped upstairs.”

The Nation newspaper’s website quoted a survivor as saying that the fireworks set the ceiling alight.

“At first, I thought it was an effect, which looked like (the) real thing. Then, someone shouted ‘fire, fire’ and panic broke out and people ran for their life,” said the woman named as Fah.

Jongrak said the nightclub was certified by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, but said they were still looking into the safety standards.

Police officials said at least 58 people were so far confirmed dead.

A Bangkok emergency services official said 243 people including 29 foreigners had been injured and had been rushed to 19 hospitals across the capital suffering from burns and smoke inhalation.

Japan’s Kyodo news agency said four Japanese nationals were injured, one seriously.

A spokeswoman from Britain’s Foreign Office said that at least four Britons were hurt in the blaze, while the French foreign ministry said two of its nationals were wounded.

The emergency services official said citizens of Australia, Switzerland and Finland were also injured.

Almost all the dead were on the ground floor, where the stage was located. Thai television showed fireman counting bodies swaddled in white cloth, as rescuers helped bloodied and bandaged revellers.

The club, popular with Bangkok’s elite, has a capacity of 1,000 people but it was not clear how many were in there at the time of the blaze.

Fire brigade officials said the death toll was high because there were few exits and the windows on the upper floors had iron bars across them. Some victims were trapped in the basement of the club.

“There was only one main way to get out from the front. People who worked there were able to escape from the back because they knew the exits, but the others had no chance,” senior fireman Wacharatpong Sri-Saard said.

Police said the fire broke out between midnight and 1:00am, shortly after revellers had celebrated the coming of the New Year.

The fire was the latest in a series of deadly blazes at nightclubs around the world in recent years.

In 2003 a pyrotechnics display during a concert at the Station nightclub in Rhode Island in the United States set off a blaze that killed 100 people.

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