Refugee death toll rises to 35
MAE HONG SON - The death toll from the inferno on Friday at a refugee camp in Mae Hong Son's Khun Yuam district has climbed to 35 with one missing as authorities investigate the cause of the fire.
- Published: 23/03/2013 at 11:42 PM
- Newspaper section: topstories
All that was left of the Mae Surin refugee camp on Saturday after Friday night's blaze that killed at least 35.
Pol Lt Col Decha Phaohom, an investigator with Khun Yuam district police station, said witnesses saw embers being blown by the wind land on the roof of a refugee house which caught fire andquickly spread to other houses.
Investigators believe the blaze may have been caused by a forest fire, not sparked by people cooking as previously reported, Pol Lt Col Decha said.
Dr Paisarn Thanyawinitchakul, the chief of the Mae Hong Son Public Health Office, said 35 people have been confirmed dead, 19 seriously injured, and about 100 suffered minor injuries.
He said the dead victims have been sent to Maharaj Hospital in Chiang Mai for autopsies and assistance may also be sought from the Police General Hospital's Institute of Forensic Medicine.
Mae Hong Song Governor Naruemon Palawat said Saturday the fire broke out in Zone 1 and Zone 4 of the camp at about 4pm before it was brought under control at about 6pm on Friday.
All of the refugees had been evacuated to a temporary shelter near the camp.
They were not taken to shelters in downtown areas of Khun Yuam district because the law forbids the refugees from moving far away from the camps.
Ms Naruemon said the blaze destroyed about 100 huts, mostly made of bamboo and with dried grass roofs, living quarters for defence volunteers, a school, a medical clinic and two warehouses storing food.
She said most of the victims died at a hospital in the refugee camp because they could not escape the blaze.
The camp, about 90km west of Mae Hong Son, has accommodated about 3,000 Karen refugees for more than 20 years, Ms Naruemon said.
It is one of nine refugee camps on the Thai-Myanmar border set up more than two decades ago to offer asylum for ethnic Karen fleeing the fighting between the Myanmar army and rebel troops.
Hospitals in Mae Hong Son had dispatched teams of medical personnel to tend to the injured.
Temporary shelters for the homeless are being provided by the International Rescue Committee, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Jesuit Refugee Service and the International Organisation for Migration.
It is estimated that more than 2,300 refugees are left homeless.
Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department director-general Chatchai Promlert said he had instructed the department's regional centres to assist as well.
Donation centres have also been set up in all districts of Mae Hong Song to help the homeless refugees.
Chuan Sirinantporn, director-general of the Provincial Administration Department, said the nine refugee camps supervised by the department along the ThaiMyanmar border are usually safe places and that the blaze was probably an accident.
The nine camps include one in Ratchaburi, one in Kanchanaburi, three in Tak and four in Mae Hong Son.
National police chief Adul Saengsingkaew Saturday ordered the Provincial Police Region 5 to step up efforts to determine the cause of the fire at the camp and to verify the identify of the dead victims.
The United Nations refugee agency said it was rushing to provide plastic sheets, bed mats and other resources to make emergency shelters.
Forensic teams and security troops rushed to the camp early Saturday, even while the remains were still smouldering.
"We are deeply saddened by this tragic incident and doing what we can to provide instant relief," said the UNHCR's Thailand representative, Mireille Girard.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, informed of the fire while on an official visit to New Zealand, ordered officials to provide all needed assistance to the victims.
She asked the Interior Ministry, the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department and the armed forces to set up an emergency centre to ensure sufficient food, drinking water, medicine and clothing for the affected refugees.
Meanwhile, a fire truck tumbled down a mountain while on its way to help douse the flames at the camp. The accident happened in Pai district, leaving two fire fighters dead and eight injured.
They were sent to Maharaj Hospital in Chiang Mai and Pai district hospital.
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- Writer: Post Reporters