Fifty-nine killed in Bangkok nightclub fire

Rescue workers believe other bodies still inside building; blaze caused by "special effects" fireworks to usher in New Year.

clubfire 88 (photo credit: )
clubfire 88
(photo credit: )
At least 59 people, including a number of foreigners, died when a fire swept through a high-class nightclub jammed with as many as 1,000 New Year's revelers in the Thai capital, police at the scene said Thursday. Police officers said about 130 others were injured when the blaze broke out shortly after midnight at the Santika Club in an entertainment area of Bangkok. Local press reports said 200 sustained injuries. The officers, who declined to be named because they were not authorized to speak to the press, said the club was packed with about 1,000 celebrants. Rescue workers said they believed other bodies were still inside the blaze-gutted building. Police Gen. Jongrak Jutanont said at least 59 persons perished and that among the injured were nationals of Australia, Nepal, Japan and the Netherlands. Officials could not immediately provide more specific information. Earlier, Police Maj. Gen. Chokchai Deeprasertwit said the fire may have been caused by firecrackers brought into the club by guests or sparks flying from a New Year's pyrotechnics countdown on the nightclub stage. The club was promoting the New Year's party as "Goodbye Santika" night because the pub owner was planning to move to a new location since the lease on the site could not be extended. The Web site of The Nation newspaper quoted one party-goer, Somchai Frendi, as saying the blaze was caused by "special effects" fireworks to usher in the New Year. The fireworks ignited the second floor ceiling, which was made largely of inflammable, sound-proofing material, he said. The report also quoted a club worker as saying that explosions were heard shortly after the New Year countdown ended and someone shouted, "Fire!" Chokchai said death came through burns, smoke inhalation and injuries during the stampede to escape from the club, which had only one main door for entry and exit. A firefighter at the scene, Watcharapong Sri-saard, said another door at the rear of the building was known only to the staff while an Associated Press reporter saw a small, third door at one side of the building. The firefighter said a number of staircases inside the club as well as bars across the second-floor windows also made escape difficult. The rescue workers said most of the bodies were found in the basement of the club, which attracts a well-heeled crowd of Thais and foreigners. The corpses, placed in white body bags, were laid out in rows in the parking lot in front of the club which was strewn with shoes of the victims. A video provided to AP Television News by one of the rescue workers showed bloodied, bruised and burned victims being dragged out of the burning club or managing to run through the door or shattered windows. Flames were racing through the entire building during the rescue operation and the roof of the concrete building later collapsed. An Associated Press reporter who peered inside the still-burning building said everything in sight had been burned to a crisp. Police and rescue workers said the rescue operation was delayed because of heavy New Year's traffic in the Ekamai entertainment district and the large number of cars parked at the club. "Bodies, some of them probably alive, were falling off the stretchers as the rescue workers rushed them away. The flames were glowing through the broken glass windows. A part of the building had already collapsed," said Andrew Jones, who arrived at the scene shortly after the fire erupted. Jones, a teacher in Bangkok from Salt Ash, England, entered the club briefly, seeing corpses charred beyond recognition inside and people fleeing with burns over 90 percent of their bodies. The ceiling over the front entrance to the club collapsed moments after he got out of the building, he said. One local Web site about the entertainment scene in Bangkok described the club as attracting "an affluent Thai student crowd, with Euro models and Westerners also popping in" with a "whisky-sipping crowd all focused on a large stage." Another site says that the high ceiling and a cross in the main room makes one feel "like walking into a church."