Cambodia building collapse: Rescue efforts continue as toll rises

Collapse at Chinese-owned building site kills least 17 people and injures 24 in beach town of Sihanoukville.

    Cambodia building collapse: Rescue efforts continue as toll rises
    Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen blamed the incident on 'carelessness' by the construction company [Heng Sinith/AP]

    Rescue workers in a Cambodia beach town have picked through the rubble of a collapsed Chinese-owned building 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.

    Several bodies were retrieved from the rubble, sending the death toll up to 17, with 24 injured.

    At least 1,000 rescue workers, soldiers, police, medics and Chinese construction experts have been deployed to the site but, by Sunday morning, they had scoured barely half the debris.

    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 once sleepy fishing village has seen a Chinese construction boom, buoyed by tourists flocking to its casinos, beaches and glitzy hotels in recent years, raising questions around the speed of development in a nation notorious for lax safety standards.     

    'Carelessness'

    Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen blamed the incident on "carelessness" by the construction company.  

    The owner of the building, the head of the construction firm and the contractor - all Chinese nationals - have been detained by Cambodian police.

    A Cambodian landowner has also been held for questioning, and officials said they have launched an investigation.   

    Beijing is pouring investment into Cambodia as part of its behemoth Belt and Road initiative, a sweeping trillion-dollar infrastructure programme across Asia, Africa and Europe.   

    Around $1bn 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.     

    Hun Sen said the 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 4am on Saturday (21:00 GMT on Friday).     

    Though accidents are common at construction sites in Cambodia, where safety laws and labour protections are notoriously lax, Saturday's building collapse is the deadliest in recent memory.

    SOURCE: News agencies