BANGKOK, Thailand — It was billed as a New Year's Eve blowout and a last-night celebration of the wildly popular, classy nightclub before it moved to a new location. "Goodbye Santika," the promotion poster read.
Before the revelry at the Santika Club was over, at least 61 people were killed and more than 200 were injured after they tried to flee what swiftly became a charred, gutted ruin in a glitzy Bangkok entertainment area.
At least 35 foreigners were injured, including citizens of Australia, Belgium, Britain, France, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and the United States, according to officials and reporters. A Singaporean died.
The club, popular with young, affluent Thais as well as tourists and expatriates, was packed with about 1,000 celebrants, according to police officers at the scene. Rescue workers said most of the bodies were found in a pit area surrounding the stage.
The cause of the fire was under investigation, with several witnesses saying a fireworks display during the New Year's countdown ignited the blaze. But one foreigner said he saw no pyrotechnics at the club and a video shot by a guest showed many inside the club waving sparklers shortly before the fire erupted.
A senior Bangkok official, Pongsak Kasemsan, 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. I saw people, particularly young girls, being pushed away and crushed underneath as others were stomping on them trying to get out," said Sompong Tritaweelap, who lives in an apartment behind the nightclub.
Video footage of the disaster showed bloodied, bruised and burned victims being dragged out of the burning two-story club or managing to run through the door or out shattered windows. The video shot by rescue workers showed flames racing through the entire building even as the rescue operation was going on.
Sompong 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," he said.
Police Lt. Gen. Jongrak Jutanont said an initial investigation found the club's safety system was "substandard" but did not elaborate.
From the Associated Press.