Police forensic investigators sifted through the charred remains of an upscale Bangkok nightclub yesterday, seeking clues to a blaze that killed 58 revelers ringing in the New Year and injured 223.
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-story building.
Police said a Singaporean national was among the dead and scores of other foreigners — some from Australia, France and Japan — 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 that is frequented by locals and tourists.
“It appears that the fire started from the area of the stage where a band was playing. There were some pyrotechnics and it appears that they started the blaze,” Police Lieutenant Colonel Prawit Kantwol said.
“Most of the victims died from suffocation, but some were also killed in a stampede when people were trying to get out,” he said.
A correspondent said 100 people gathered outside the cordoned-off nightclub, 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 who was in the club when the fire broke out. “It’s horrible, horrible ... I couldn’t understand why so many people were killed. They must have been trapped upstairs.”
Police Colonel Sutin Sapmuang, of the local police station, said 58 people were so far confirmed to have died in the blaze, which he said was still under investigation.
A Bangkok emergency services headquarters official said 223 people had been injured and had been rushed to 19 hospitals across the capital suffering from burns and smoke inhalation.
“Up until now, there are 223 people injured including 29 foreigners. The injured foreigners include French, Australians, Swiss, Japanese and Finnish,” the official said.
Japan’s Kyodo news agency, citing the Japanese embassy, said four Japanese nationals were injured, one seriously.
Almost all the dead were on the ground floor, where the stage was located. About 30 charred bodies were still inside the blackened, partially collapsed structure hours after the inferno.
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 from the building and because windows on the upper floors had iron bars across them.
“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.
Some victims were trapped in the basement of the club, which was accessible via a narrow stairwell, he said.
Police said the fire broke out between midnight and 1am, shortly after revelers had celebrated the coming of the New Year.
A billboard advertising the club’s New Year’s party, with the logo “Goodbye Santika” and the names of DJs playing at the event, was still on show on the street outside hours after the blaze.