Deadly collapse of Chinese-owned building in Cambodia raises questions over hasty development
PHNOM PENH – Rescue workers on Sunday 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-story building late Saturday, more than 12 hours after it collapsed in the beach resort of Sihanoukville.
By Sunday morning rescuers had 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 to 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 and a Cambodian landowner have been held for questioning over the building collapse, which Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen blamed on “carelessness” by the construction company.
A provincial official said “teams have searched about 40 percent 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 told AFP, 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 southwestern town of Sihanoukville is awash with Chinese investment that has sparked a building frenzy to cater to mainland tourists flooding the town’s city’s casinos, beaches and glitzy hotels.
Around $1 billion was invested in the Preah Sihanouk province between 2016 and 2018 alone, and there are around 50 Chinese-owned casinos and dozens of hotel complexes under construction in Sihanoukville.
Cambodia’s prime minister said victims’ families would be given $10,000 each.
“The tragedy of the building collapse in Preah Sihanouk province is painful … for our nation, especially the families of those who lost (their lives),” Hun Sen said.
The building was nearly 80 percent complete when it collapsed around 4:00 am on Saturday.
A Cambodian landowner has also been held for questioning, and officials said they have launched an investigation.
Though accidents are common at construction sites in Cambodia, where safety laws and labor protections are notoriously lax, Saturday’s building collapse is the deadliest in recent memory.