At least seven workers have been confirmed dead and 20 others injured when an under-construction building collapsed Friday afternoon in the coastal province of Kep.
The collapse occurred Friday afternoon around 4p.m, with Prime Minister Hun Sen reaching the site shortly after to oversee the rescue operation. The prime minister on his Facebook page said that seven people had been confirmed dead.
Authorities on Saturday said that the project had shoddy construction and Interior Minister Sar Kheng said two Cambodian nationals, who owned the building, had been arrested. The building has been under construction for around ten months, according to some workers and sources who spoke to VOA Khmer.
“So far, we don’t know whose fault it is, but we just know that the construction didn’t meet adequate standards,” said Sar Kheng in the interview with VOA Khmer.
“They have to face the legal responsibility,” he said, in addition to hiring young Cambodians to work there as well.”
The incident comes months after a similar building collapse in Preah Sihanouk province’s Sihanoukville town, killing 28 people. At the time, the building was said to have not met the requisite construction quality requirements.
Eh Kosal, a construction worker at the site, said he and his wife were eating crabs and drinking beers with a few colleagues, when they suddenly heard the building start to crumble over them.
“I looked up. Everything fell down and hit my back hard,” he said. ““I tried to grab my wife out of the rubble and kept her close to me so that she is safe.”
The husband and wife were pulled out of the rubble at 4a.m. Saturday morning. Kosal said he had been working at the site tiling the floors and earned $12.5 a day.
Others were still waiting on the rescue operations to pull out co-workers or family members. Interior Minister Sar Kheng said it was likely there were more people still trapped.
Chan Ra, a 17-year-old construction worker from Svay Rieng province, said she was lucky to survive the incident because she was outside the premises. But four of her family member, including her mother, were under the rubble and only her father had been found, suffering serious injuries to his legs.
“The building collapsed immediately and I called for my mother,” she said. “But there was no answer.”
Nak Samey is also looking for her 15-year-old son, who is stuck under the rubble. The rice farmer from neighboring Kampot province said her son had come to work at the construction site just last month.
“He left home to work here for money after his brother-in-law called to say there was work here,” she said.
Multiple embassies and the United Nations have expressed their condolences and pledged support for the rescue efforts.
The Kep building collapse again exemplifies growing concerns over the quality of construction in Cambodia, especially given the current construction boom that has accompanied a large influx of foreign direct investment, especially from China.
In August 2018, the World Bank Group warned that development in Cambodia operated on “build first, license later” timeline, adding “The granting of permits and control of construction is beyond the authority of individual provincial departments and municipalities.”