UPDATED at 2:19 P.M. ET on 2020-01-03
Six people were killed and at least 24 were injured when a seven-story hotel under construction collapsed Friday in southern Cambodia’s Kep province.
The collapse occurred around 4:30 p.m. local time, trapping many inside.
Ken Sotha, the governor of Kep province, told RFA that authorities were trying to search for those trapped inside the building, but did not provide further details.
Shortly after the incident, sources told RFA’s Khmer Service that as many as 20 or 30 could still be buried under the rubble. Over the next few hours all but five workers were accounted for and media outlets were reporting four had died. An army of 1000 workers were mobilized to dig for the remaining five. When they were discovered, three were still alive, but were injured, while the other two had died.
The hotel was being built to be larger than what its permit allowed, according to Yun Phally, the Kep province coordinator for the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC).
Yun told RFA that the permit for the building did not allow for seven floors.
Kep Provincial Land Management Department Deputy Director Lay Vannara told RFA that the building's owner, Ek Sarun, was arrested and is being questioned by the police. Lay said that the collapse came after the workers had just finished laying concrete and were having a party inside the structure. Shortly after the Ek left the party the collapse occurred, so he was spared.
Prime Minister Hun Sen announced on his Facebook page that he would personally oversee the rescue operation and was heading to Kep province.
Meanwhile Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, claimed that the collapse likely happened because of corruption, saying, “Corruption victimized the poor.”
Despite a booming construction industry in Cambodia, accidents like Friday’s are quite common. Developers either ignore permits or do not even apply for them, and workers sometimes die when things go awry.
RFA reported in June that a Chinese-owned unlicensed seven-story building collapsed in Sihanoukville, killing 28 people and injuring 26—many of whom were construction workers sleeping on the second floor at the time of the incident.
Calls for the country to take action against illegal buildings were made to Hun Sen following that incident.
Among one official’s proposed measures to stem illegal building were: shutting off the electrical supply to sites, cutting off their water supply, refusing access to the city’s sewage system, rejecting permit applications, and banning marketing materials from offending developers
Reported by Pheap Aun for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this report quoted a source who incorrectly stated that the building's owner was not in Cambodia at the time of the collapse.