Monday, August 20, 2012

Thailand: Four Die in Phuket Nightclub Fire, Only the Tip of the Iceberg

According to Phuketwan, the leading newspaper in Phuket, highly flammable foam used as insulation in the elevated dance balcony of Phuket's Tiger Discotheque was a contributing factor in the death of four unidentified bodies who perished in Friday's (August 17) fire.

An expert said similar unsuitable foam had also been used at the Santika Pub in Bangkok, where more than 60 people died on New Year's Eve 2009.
There were seven fire exits but some required patrons to traverse a balcony railing before descending to a lower level.

Representatives of the Association of Siamese Architects, after reviewing the establishment, concluded that 20% of the building was spray-on foam when 10% was the legal maximum.

The foam used was expansion polystyrene, inappropriate because it burned rapidly instead of being slow-burning and resistant to temperatures up to 750 degrees, as the appropriate foam would have been.

Two sets of concrete stairs run to the the dance balcony that surrounds the dance floor. Two bodies were found at the top of each of the stairways.

Moreover, the Building Safety Inspectors and Officers Association, told the media that the building had no fire detectors and no sprinkler system, an industry best-practice for a high-occupancy premise, even in the absence of mandatory codes.

What has yet to be determined is when the foam was installed in the thirteen-year-old building and whether Phuket authorities should have checked it and detected that it was the wrong type of material to be used in a nightclub.

At a news conference held after the fire was extinguished, a company executive who owns the nightclub stated that each of the four families whose loved ones died in the fire will be paid one million baht (US$31,530).

Pending release of the identities of the decedents, it is believed that one of those who perished in the fire was British tourist, Michael Tzouvanni, 24, who called friends when he realized that he would perish in the fire. A ring he had been wearing was later found amongst the debris in the club.

Four French tourists were also among those severely injured in the fire. Reportedly, three other unidentified persons continue to be missing. Some survivors reportedly have sustained burns on as much as 40% of their bodies.

COMMENT: Initial findings suggest that the cause of the fire may have been from lightning that struck a transformer followed by an explosion when local power was restored, although this has not as yet been factually proved.

As someone who lived in Thailand for a number of years as the Regional Security Officer (RSO) at the US Embassy in Bangkok, I can sadly report that like everything else in Phuket specifically, and in Thailand generally, safety regulations governing nearly everything is overlooked or ignored, in keeping with the Thai cultural attitude--"mai pen rai"--which loosely translated means "don't worry."

Traffic safety is poorly regulated and enforced, which is an explanation for the high death and injury rates on Phuket roadways.

Additionally, tourists have died after diving into hotel pools; others have died when local power is interrupted, only to be electrocuted when power is restored during heavy rain.

Because local regulations don't require experience or a license to operate two-wheeled motorbikes and motorcycles, many tourists are seriously injured and die on the roadways either because of a lack of inexperience or because they drink and drive while operating such vehicles.

Notwithstanding, many tourists are fleeced, conned and victimized because local police either have been bought off by vendors and tourist establishments or because they've been told by their superiors not to rigidly enforce the law, so the tourists keep coming back in large numbers.

Unfortunately both Phuket and Pattaya have declined to the point of being somewhat out of control and borderline lawless, unless, of course, a tourist happens to file a complaint.

For those who dispute my comments, I would respectfully invite them to search my 1,352 postings over the last couple of years and search postings under "Phuket."

I raise these concerns not to be unduly harsh or critical, but to tragically emphasize that many tourists and travelers to Phuket will never return.

In the event my cautions fall upon deaf ears or some of us actually consider themselves immortal, or truly believe that bad things only happen to someone else, permit me to mention how Australian travel agent Michelle Smith, 60, from Perth, was stabbed to death on June 20, when she resisted the efforts of two street thugs to steal her handbag.