Two Boys Die, Dozens Homeless After Fire

Two sleeping boys were killed and more than 50 stilt houses were destroyed by a raging fire that swept through Srah Chak commune in Daun Penh district Saturday night, municipal officials said Sunday.

The fire enveloped Village Two, which stood over a swamp between the train tracks and Boeng Kak lake. About 95 families were victimized, according to Huy Song, deputy district police chief.

A 12-year-old boy and a 14-year-old boy died in the blaze, Huy Song said.

An official from the human rights NGO Licadho said another 15 people were injured.

Huy Song said the fire started be­tween 11 pm and midnight when drunken revelers got careless with a container of cooking gas.

Tuy Someth, national project manager for UN Habitat, said firefighters arrived at the scene promptly but some demanded $1,500 to extinguish a house. One woman gave them $300 and some valuables and they did nothing, he said.

Many of the families are now staying in a nearby pagoda, railway cars and the homes of friends and relatives, Tuy Someth said.

“They will rebuild their houses in the same place,” he said.

Mann Chhoeun, municipal Cabinet chief, said he hadn’t been at the scene and couldn’t comment on the alleged conduct of some of the firemen. He said he and district Governor Soun Rendy had personally contributed 5 kg of rice and canned fish to each of the families and would make additional donations.

Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay, who visited the site Sunday, said witnesses reported that a man who did not live in the village get involved in an altercation Saturday night and left as the fire broke out.

Mann Chhoeun said the fire victims were not squatters, and called them “people living on their own land.” He said the municipality would meet with victims today to begin planning how to rebuild their community.

Minister of Women’s Affairs Mu Sochua comforted many of the victims at Wat Neak Goan where they are temporarily staying.

The two boys who died, brothers Pav Dina, 14, and Pav Chhay, 12, were visiting an uncle in Village Two, she said. They were crema­ted, then commemorated in a Sunday ceremony.

Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Tioulong Saumura said party officials were collecting testimonials from victims in an effort to determine the cause of the fire. Some of the victims, she said Sunday, were too afraid to give their names.

“They’ve lost everything. They do not want to lose their lives,” she said. “Some of them are resigned to this sort of injustice.”

On Sunday morning, only the stilts that supported the houses still stood. Victims waded shoulder-deep in the swamp salvaging corrugated metal and lumber. They also wrapped colored string around the stilts, claiming their territory for any future rebuilding.

Other newly homeless people who sat with their belongings watched from the rickety wood paths that had led to their homes. When a trailer loaded with lumber and corrugated metal arrived, they ran to it and snatched up the building materials.

 

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