SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia: Two men were pulled alive from the rubble of a collapsed Cambodian building on Monday (Jun 24), according to an AFP reporter at the scene, more than two days after the construction site accident that left at least 28 dead.
Hopes that more survivors may be found under the debris had been fading, and the prime minister ordered inspections of all construction sites at the beach town which is undergoing a Chinese-bankrolled development boom.
But against the odds two people were cut free from the tangled wreckage alive on Monday, carried out by rescuers who had all but given up hope of finding anyone alive.
About 24 people were injured and many were feared still entombed in a mountain of twisted steel and rubble after the building came down early on Saturday in the coastal town of Sihanoukville.
Investigators are trying to determine what caused the seven-storey steel and concrete structure to crumple without warning before dawn, trapping construction workers who were sleeping on the site.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen sacked a top disaster management official on Monday, saying he had failed to take responsibility for the incident.
Three Chinese nationals and a Cambodian landowner have been held for questioning over the building collapse.
Residents near the disaster scene said they had long feared tragedy was imminent.
"These buildings are coming up in just a year," said Sock Dara, 45.
"We have been concerned for a long time about the quality of these Chinese buildings."
An AFP reporter saw a partially buried body, covered by a mosquito net, as the debris was cleared by hand, pneumatic drills and diggers.
"We don't expect any more survivors," a soldier who has manned the scene throughout told AFP, requesting anonymity.
BILLION DOLLAR TOWN
Distraught relatives at a local hospital said around a dozen people were believed to still be entombed in the concertinaed floors of the building.
"I lost my husband and my nephew," said Khim Pov, 47, crying and hugging her daughter as her son - who was able to crawl from the debris - received treatment.
"I don't have any hope my husband has survived. The bodies being pulled out have been flattened," she told AFP.
The once-quiet fishing village of Sihanoukville has seen a remarkable Chinese construction boom driven by the need for rooms for tourists flocking from the mainland to its dozens of casinos.
The Chinese embassy in Cambodia, a strategically important ally to Beijing with ports and borders to other Mekong countries, expressed their condolences and backed a "thorough investigation" of the role of the three Chinese nationals and the cause of the accident.
There are an estimated 200,000 construction workers in Cambodia, most unskilled, reliant on day wages and not protected by union rules, according to the International Labour Organization.
There are also thousands of Chinese workers employed on Beijing-funded projects, fuelling tension with local labourers who envy their better pay and conditions.
Beijing is pouring investment into Cambodia as part of its behemoth Belt and Road initiative, a sweeping trillion-dollar infrastructure programme across Asia, Africa and Europe.
Around US$1 billion was invested in the Preah Sihanouk province between 2016 and 2018 alone, and there are around 50 Chinese-owned casinos and dozens of hotel complexes under construction in Sihanoukville.