December 31, 2008 / 8:12 PM / in 9 years

Bangkok fire kills 58 New Year clubbers

<p>A Thai fire officials take a picture of victim bodies outside Santika nightclub in Bangkok on January 1, 2009. REUTERS/Kerek Wongsa</p>

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A blaze at a top Bangkok nightclub killed at least 58 people celebrating the New Year on Thursday and injured more than 100 others, rescue workers and witnesses said.

Some said the fire was caused by fireworks, others that it was an electrical fault.

“We were all dancing and suddenly there was a big flame that came out of the front of the stage and everybody was running away,” partygoer Oh Benjamas told Reuters on the street outside the smoldering wreckage of the Santika club.

Although details are still sketchy, Oh said clubbers were given sparklers shortly before midnight and as soon as the clocks heralded the start of 2009, fireworks started going off inside the dance area, sparking a conflagration.

“People started running for the doors and breaking the windows,” she said.

Dozens of bodies wrapped in white cotton sheets lay on the pavement outside as fire crews moved in to douse the embers of the club on Ekkamai, a street popular with foreign revelers and high-society Thais.

Many of the bodies were charred beyond recognition and the blaze had completely gutted the building. Rescue teams used pick-up trucks to ferry the corpses from the scene.

Witness Tos Maddy, who estimated 400 people were packed inside the building, said he heard what he thought was an electrical explosion around 1230 a.m. (1730 GMT), followed by a stampede for the exits.

<p>A policeman looks at the bodies of victims outside Santika nightclub in Bangkok on January 1, 2009. REUTERS/Kerek Wongsa</p>

“Everything went boom and people started running. The fire went very quickly,” he told Reuters.

Others described flames licking the ceiling before it caved in.

<p>A firefighter searches for bodies of victims inside Santika nightclub in Bangkok January 1, 2009. REUTERS/Kerek Wongsa</p>

“I was in the bathroom and when I walked out, I saw flames in the roof and it fell to the floor,” 28-year-old Montika Boontang told Reuters in the nearby Bangkok Hospital, where the majority of the injured were being treated.

Thanat Wongsanga, deputy chief of the nearby Thong Lor police station, said the cause of the blaze had not yet been determined. Local media said an electrical fault was probably to blame.

Police said 58 people had been killed. Local police superintendent Suthin Suppuang said 128 people had been injured.

Bangkok’s nightspots, some of which can accommodate several thousand people, have often been the subject of safety concerns although they have been incident-free for the last five years.

The Thai capital was hit two years ago on New Year’s Eve by a series of small explosions in which several people were killed and dozens injured.

The blasts were blamed variously on fallout from the 2006 coup against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and Muslim militants who have waged a separatist rebellion in Thailand’s southernmost provinces since 2003.

Writing by Ed Cropley; editing by Darren Schuettler and Philippa Fletcher

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