Sun, Jan 04, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Forensics experts struggle to identify victims of Thai fire

GRIM WORK The death toll stood at 61, although a final list of casualties has yet to be issued, the Narenthorn Emergency Center said yesterday

AP , BANGKOK

Forensics experts in Thailand struggled to identify charred corpses while 26 victims were still receiving emergency medical care yesterday following a New Year’s Eve fire in a packed Bangkok nightclub.

The death toll stood at 61 yesterday, although a final list of casualties, which include a number of foreigners, has yet to be issued, the Narenthorn Emergency Center coordinating the medical aid operation said.

Chatree Charoencheewakul at the center said two more deaths were reported on Friday night, while 26 people still in intensive care units at several Bangkok hospitals. Police were still trying to identify 15 bodies.

Interior Minister Chavarat Charnvirakul said on Friday that the fire could further damage the country’s image, already battered by widespread political protests and a recent weeklong closure of the capital’s two airports.

The unrest has crippled the country’s essential tourism industry at a time when the economy was already sagging amid the global financial meltdown.

The statement came as police investigated the cause of the fire.

Police Major General Jongrak Jutanont said authorities were focusing on whether the blaze was sparked by a countdown fireworks display organized by the club owners or by firecrackers brought in by guests.

A Singaporean was among the dead, while injured foreigners were from Australia, Belgium, Britain, France, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and the US, officials and reporters said.

More than 200 were injured from smoke inhalation, burns and injuries sustained during a stampede out the one main door of the club, which catered to young well-to-do Thais, tourists and expatriates.

“It’s about the lax law enforcement which we need to strengthen,” Charnvirakul told reporters while visiting victims at Chulalongkorn Hospital. “But an accident like this can happen everywhere and in every country. But I really don’t want this to happen because it came from carelessness.”

No charges related to the fire have yet been filed, but the owner, Thai-Chinese businessman Wisuth Setsawat, was initially charged with allowing underage customers into the Santika Club, Jongrak said.

A 17-year-old high school student was found among the dead, he said.

Local newspapers said Wisuth has asked the police to delay his interrogation until he recovers from injuries sustained in the blaze.

The government’s insurance commission said it was likely that the club had not renewed its fire insurance, which expired before the incident.

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