Bleak Future For Victims of Tuol Kok Fire

Having thrown her family’s belongings into an open sewer to protect them from the advancing flames last Friday, Taing Sokdara con­siders herself one of the lucky ones: many of her neighbors in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kok district have nothing left at all.

Still, Taing Sokdara said, life in the wake of the fire that left

129 families homeless in Boeng Salang commune is a bleak prospect.

“I have nowhere else to go, no relatives to stay with,” the 35-year-old food vendor said Sunday. “I want to rebuild my house, but I have no money to buy wood.”

Their faces and limbs still blackened with soot, many residents were encamped at the site of the blaze in Phsar Doeum Kor village Sunday, sheltered under sheets and tarps propped up by pieces of charred wood.

On Monday, SRP officials distributed 10 kg of rice to each of the families. The visit follows a relief effort Saturday by district and municipal officials, who gave 50 kg of rice, clothing and cash handouts to each family, said Mann Chhoeun, deputy municipal governor.

The SRP’s visit was “purely humanitarian” and not politically motivated, said Ho Vann, an SRP lawmaker for Phnom Penh.

“Even if the CPP donated more, I’m not concerned that the CPP will gain popularity in this SRP-dominated commune,” Ho Vann added.

Officials say the blaze was spar­ked by an electrical short circuit. Residents said two fire trucks sent to the scene became stuck in the settlement’s muddy, narrow access lane and were unable to reach many of the burning wooden huts.

The fate of the site itself remains unclear. Commune chief Touch Meng Sreang said the families were squatting on the land and were never issued land titles.

Mann Chhoeun said the layout of the site should now be re­assessed to possibly allow the construction of proper roads and sewage systems.

Given the lack of access roads to the site, “it’s not certain whether people will be allowed to rebuild their homes [exactly as they were],” Mann Chhoeun added.

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