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Thai hotel collapse leaves 23 dead, hundreds injured

By DENHOLM BARNETSON

BANGKOK -- A multi-story hotel in eastern Thailand collapsed into a heap of rubble Friday, leaving at least 23 people dead, more than 300 injured and dozens more trapped, police and hospital spokesmen said.

The government said it would investigate whether the Royal Plaza Hotel in Nakhon Ratchasima, about 150 miles (250 km) east of Bangkok, had obtained official permission before adding several new floors to the building.

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'Our people don't follow any rules, that's what causes problems like this all the time,' said Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai, who rushed to the scene. 'I believe there are a number of such sub-standard structures.'

By late Friday rescuers, including some 600 soldiers, had freed five survivors from the mound of twisted steel and broken concrete. But police said at least 30 people were feared trapped since the hotel.

The rescuers used cranes to remove the debris and pushed an oxygen pipe and food into the basement to help trapped survivors. Police said the workers were largely ignoring dead bodies under the rubble so they could concentrate on freeing the survivors.

Spokesmen at the city's hospitals said 23 bodies had been recovered, including that of one unidentified foreign woman, and more than 300 people have been injured, 30 of them seriously.

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A police spokesman in Nakhon Ratchasima said several foreigners were among the casualties, although the city is not known as a popular tourist destination.

Police said about 200 teachers and government officials were attending an Education Ministry seminar at the hotel when the building collapsed about 10:30 a.m. About 100 other people, including the wife of the deputy governor of Nakhon Ratchasima Province, were attending a Lions Club meeting.

'I heard, 'Bang! Bang!' and then felt the building vibrate, and then it collapsed,' Aue-aree, who was attending the teachers' seminar on the second floor of the hotel, told a Thai radio station. She said the ceiling caved in, and she escaped by climbing out over part of the wall.

There was no immediate indication what caused the disaster, but builders were constructing two new floors to the hotel when the disaster occurred. Government officials said the building was constructed five years ago as a two-story hotel, and four more floors were added in 1990.

A construction boom in Thailand in the 1980s tempted many developers to cut corners.

'Obviously, we'll have to check the permission for the construction of the additional floors of the building,' government spokesman Abhisit Vejjajiva said in Bangkok

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