New Year’s Eve turned into a tragedy in Thailand when a fire broke out at a popular nightclub in Bangkok, killing about 60 revellers and injuring over 200. The fire was reportedly triggered by a pyrotechnic show that was supposed to count in 2009 at the Santika Club, where over 1,000 people had gathered to celebrate the New Year.
Fire and rescue officials inspect the remains of the Santika nightclub
53 people were confirmed dead at the scene of the tragedy. At least another seven died in hospital, succumbing to their burns or to smoke inhalation. Of 60 bodies sent to the morgue, 32 remained unidentified.
They had been burnt beyond recognition in the fire that broke out shortly after midnight while the party was still in full-swing at the Santika Club.
Eyewitnesses report that the countdown to the New Year was accompanied by a firework display. Sparks are thought to have set the ceiling on fire. The whole building was apparently in flames within minutes.
Only one exit
One man told television reporters that he only got out with difficulty: “I saw the fire where people were singing. I thought of nothing but getting out. There was only one way to come out and the gate was very small -- maybe two metres. I think seven or eight hundred people were inside.”
The fire department said the victims were either burnt to death, died of smoke poisoning or were trampled to death in the general panic and scramble for the exit.
“The main problem I think with this building was that there was no way out from the rear,” said David Leeland from Australian television. He said the rescue men had told him they had “found 30 corpses in one area in the back of the club.”
“There was only one real main entry/exit and that was the main front door,” which was completely damaged by fire. “It doesn’t look as if there was any way out.”
Other reports said that there were three exits but this remained uncertain.
PM visits the tragedy scene
The Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva visited the scene of the tragedy on Thursday morning local time and announced that the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration had set up a centre for coordinating assistance for people injured in the fire.
Over 200 people were sent to 14 different hospitals in the capital for treatment.
Most of the guests at the New Year’s Party were reportedly Thais but there were also some tourists from Japan, Singapore, Holland, France and Australia. One man from Singapore died in the fire.
Although safety requirements in Thailand’s bars and clubs are not particularly strict, they are apparently often not met. Emergency exits were not clearly marked at the Santika Club.
In a tragic irony, the New Year’s Eve party had been nicknamed “Goodbye Santika” as the nightclub’s lease had run out and management was planning to move to another location.