Sihanoukville, Preah Sihanouk province – As rescue teams began wrapping up their efforts here yesterday, hundreds of onlookers watched in amazement as two more victims of the deadly building collapse were found buried alive under the rubble.
At about 4pm, a frenzy of movement overtook the rescue teams as they located the victims, who had been buried alive for more than two days.
As he was pulled out from the rubble, victim Kak Kea, 17, repeatedly thanked his rescuers, struggling to find words in the aftermath of his ordeal.
“I am alive because I ate milled rice in a bag that I had kept for cooking,” he told a throng of reporters and onlookers.
Sadly, two others found with the surviving victims were dead, bringing the total death toll to 28; nearly 30 construction workers have been rescued from the debris following the collapse at about 4am on Saturday.
Yun Min, the provincial governor at the time of the collapse, noted that the building did not have proper permits for construction and has since resigned from his position in shame for failing to properly manage the booming construction sector in his jurisdiction.
Prime Minister Hun Sen, who accepted Mr Min’s resignation as “a symbol of responsibility”, inspected the site yesterday and watched as the two survivors were pulled from the debris, joining them in their ambulance afterwards.
“The tragedy is a lesson for us,” Mr Hun Sen told reporters after speaking with the two surviving victims. “The government will thoroughly inspect all buildings and determine whether they are legal and up to standard or not.”
“The governor asked to resign as a symbol of showing responsibility,” he added. “As of now, we have completed the rescue operation, but we still need to clean up the site and investigate the cause of the collapse; we have not completed the investigation to find those responsible.”
On Saturday, police arrested three Chinese nationals and one Cambodian suspected of being responsible for the collapse.
Major General Chuon Narin, chief of provincial police, identified them as Chen Kun, who leased the land for construction, Deng Xing Gui, a building contractor, Gao Yu, a concerete wall contractor and Nhek Huy, owner of the land.
Lim Bun Heng, spokesman for the provincial court, yesterday said the four were charged over their involvement in the construction project, but he did not disclose the charges.
“The prosecutor charged them already, but I don’t remember the charges,” Mr Bun Heng said before declining to comment further.
Victims have reported that up to 60 workers were living in the building when it collapsed, a common, but dangerous practice in the Kingdom’s construction sector.
Speaking to media at the site on Saturday, Mr Min said the Chinese-owned building was not being constructed legally.
“That building was built without a permit, and our officials went down to prohibit the construction two times already, but the builders did not listen,” Mr Min said. “We would like to appeal to all constructing companies to follow standards.”
Provincial authorities said that up to 50 percent of the rubble has been cleared. The collapse also damaged nearby establishments, including a Japanese restaurant.
Sap Rithyvuth, owner of a building that houses Ku Kai Japanese restaurant, said he rented out his land to a Japanese couple.
Mr Rithyvuth said on Saturday he woke up to find the restaurant completely damaged because the debris from the seven-storey building had fallen on it.
“The Japanese couple and their child, along with their staff, were rescued,” he said. “Some of them were injured.”“I am very happy that the Japanese family and their staff survived,” Mr Rithyvuth added, noting that the family was renting the lot for $750 per month and that they were good cooks.
He said he will review the damages done to his home and his restaurant. After doing so, Mr Rithyvuth said he will file a lawsuit in order to demand compensation for him and the Japanese family.
He said he suspects the seven-storey building collapsed because there was no foundation and that the builders had built too many floors.
“This is carelessness from the Chinese owner of the building,” he said. “Provincial authorities should enforce the law.”
Yesterday, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Cambodia issued a statement of condolences to the families of the victims.
“The Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Cambodia would like to express its heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims in the accident and express sympathy and solicitude for the injured. [We] sincerely hope the injured will soon recover,” it said, noting it is currently raising donations. “We have launched a donation initiative for all [owners] of Chinese-funded enterprises to raise $100,000 for the families of the victims and the injured. We will deliver the money as soon as the rescue work is over.”
Chinese Ambassador Wang Wentien also spoke about the incident yesterday, saying he will call on all Chinese enterprises in the province to offer aid, including equipment, to Cambodian authorities.
Mr Wang noted that Chinese investors in Cambodia are welcomed, but they must respect and follow the law.
“All Chinese investors must pay closer attention to the quality of their investment in order to ensure safety,” he said. “I call on Chinese investors to continue investing in Cambodia with good quality and high security.”
Chap Pros, a worker from Kampot province who was rescued, said he was sleeping with four of his colleagues on the second floor when the building collapsed.
Mr Pros said at about 4am on Saturday, he woke up to cook rice and went back to sleep because it was still dark. He then heard the building collapse and he and his colleagues fell with the building.
“I still had courage and I opened my eyes to see, but I could not see anything because it was dark and dusty,” Mr Pros said, noting that he then yelled to make sure his colleagues were all right. To his relief, his colleagues yelled back.
“We saw an opening in the debris and we called out for help,” he said. “Rescue workers saw us and they rescued us.”
Nhor Channet, a 30-year-old survivor, said he came from Tboung Khmum province to work and that he was sleeping with his wife and younger brother on the second floor when the building collapsed.
The collapse took the life of his younger brother, 18-year-old Nhor Chanthorn, and Mr Channet said he was lucky to be alive.
“I got up once, then I went back to sleep before the building collapsed,” he said. “I fell down near the wall but the wall had a metal structure, that’s why I am alive.”
“After the building collapsed, I called my wife and used my hands to claw my way to find my wife, but I only managed to grab hold of one of her legs, the other was pinned by debris,” he added.
He said that his wife was seriously injured and was sent to a hospital in Phnom Penh for treatment.
As for himself, Mr Channet said he was also seriously hurt.
“I feel pain all over my body,” he said.