BANGKOK, Jan 1 – A fierce fire tore through an upscale Bangkok nightclub early Thursday as revellers celebrated New Year, killing at least 58 people including a foreigner and injuring more than 200 others, rescuers said.
The blaze broke out after a pyrotechnic display at the Santika club in the Thai capital’s Ekkamai district, a thronging entertainment area frequented by locals and tourists. Police said a Singaporean national was among the dead.
Relatives and friends gathered at Bangkok hospitals and outside the night spot desperately trying to find out news of lost and injured loved ones, as forensic police pored over the gutted two-storey building for clues.
"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 told AFP.
"Most of the victims died from suffocation, but some were also killed in a stampede when people were trying to get out," he said.
An AFP correspondent said about 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 killed in the blaze, which he said was still under investigation.
A Bangkok emergency services headquarters official said 207 people had been hurt, adding: "There are some foreigners injured from the blaze."
The wounded were rushed to 14 hospitals around the capital suffering burns and smoke inhalation.
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 and 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. The roof of the building had also collapsed during the blaze.
Police said the fire broke out between midnight and 1:00am, shortly after revellers had celebrated the coming of the New Year.
A billboard advertising the club’s New Year 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.
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.