Steven Hall, a British tourist at the club, suffered serious burns to his left hand and shoulders as he groped his way out of the burning building.

'Look of horror'

"Fire broke out over the stage and it just went along the ceiling of the club. At first... everybody thought it was part of the performance."

Steven Hall,
British tourist at the Pantika Club

His account differed from many others, saying he never saw pyrotechnics used in the stage performance.

Speaking from his hospital bed, Hall told the Associated Press news agency the flames first appeared from the ceiling.

"A fire broke out over the stage and it just went along the ceiling of the club. At first, I think initially everybody thought it was part of the performance but I noticed the faces of the people who were on the stage and looking at the hot embers come down ... the look of horror in their face ... you could tell it wasn't supposed to be part of it," he said.

"You could instantly feel the heat coming off [the stage] as well. It wasn't hugely intensive heat but you could feel it and it was spreading very quickly."

Among the casualties were a Singaporean who died and at least 35 foreigners who were injured, including partygoers from Australia, Belgium, Britain, France, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and the United States, according to officials.

Nearly 30 of the corpses were charred beyond recognition, and full confirmation of their identities is not expected for a week.

Safety crackdown

Nearly 30 victims were burned beyond recognition [Reuters]
City officials have ordered a preliminary investigation report to be completed within three days and vowed to crack down on unsafe entertainment venues, some of which have been described as death traps by local residents.

"Everybody was pushing against each other trying to get out to the front door as quickly as possible,'' Sompong Tritaweelap, a local resident who lives in an apartment behind the nightclub, told the Associated Press.

"I saw people, particularly young girls, being pushed away and crushed underneath as others were stomping on them trying to get out.''

He said the fire spread through the entire building within 10 minutes.

"People were screaming for help from every window. It was a terrible sight. Their hair and clothes were on fire but there was nothing they could do as the fire engulfed them."

The Santika Club, popular with young, affluent Thais as well as tourists and expatriates, was celebrating not only the New Year but also the last night at its location in Bangkok's Ekamai entertainment district.

The owner was planning to move to a new location since the lease on the property could not be extended.