Desperate search for survivors

Phnom Penh: Rescue workers picked through the rubble of a collapsed Chinese-owned building in a Cambodian beach town in a desperate search for survivors, after the construction site accident killed at least 17 people.

One person was pulled alive from the flattened seven-storey building late on Saturday, more than 12 hours after it collapsed in the beach resort of Sihanoukville.

By yesterday morning, rescuers scoured barely half of the debris of twisted metal, glass and large concrete slabs.

The once sleepy fishing village has seen a Chinese construction boom buoyed by tourists visiting its dozens of casinos in recent years, with questions raised on the speed of development in a nation notorious for lax safety standards.

Three Chinese nationals and a Cambodian landowner were held for questioning over the collapse, which Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen blamed on “carelessness” by the construction company.

At least 1,000 rescue workers, soldiers, police, medics and Chinese construction experts have been deployed to the site.

Some wore hard hats and oxygen tanks as they searched alongside several construction diggers, while the victims’ relatives waited at nearby hospitals for news.

Rescuers pulled several bodies from the rubble late on Saturday, shooting the death toll up to 17, with 24 injured.

A provincial official said “teams have searched about 40% of the debris”, prompting concerns the toll will rise.

“We fear more bodies are trapped in the debris because the search has not reached the bottom of the building yet,” the official said, requesting anonymity.

It is not clear how many people were at the site at the time of the collapse but a local official said earlier there would normally have been about 50 workers on the building site at the time.

The building was nearly 80% complete when it collapsed around 4am on Saturday.

Though accidents are common at construction sites in Cambodia, this building collapse is the deadliest in recent memory. — AFP

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