A blaze at a top Bangkok nightclub killed at least 59 people including a Singaporean celebrating the New Year and injured more than 100 others, police said on Thursday.
Some said the fire was caused by fireworks, others that it was an electrical fault.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva visited the injured at one hospital and the charred building, saying fire crackers should not have been brought inside the club.
"We were all dancing and suddenly there was a big flame that came out of the front of the stage and everybody was running away," partygoer Oh Benjamas told Reuters on the street outside the smouldering wreckage of the Santika club.
Although details were sketchy, Oh said clubbers were given sparklers shortly before midnight and as soon as the clocks heralded the start of 2009, fireworks started going off inside the dance area, sparking a conflagration.
"People started running for the doors and breaking the windows," she said.
Dozens of bodies wrapped in white cotton sheets lay on the pavement outside as fire crews moved in to douse the embers of the club on Ekkamai, a street popular with foreign revellers and high-society Thais.
Many of the bodies were charred beyond recognition and the blaze had completely gutted the building. Rescue teams used pick-up trucks to ferry bodies from the scene.
Witness Tos Maddy, who estimated 400 people were packed inside the building, said he heard what he thought was an electrical explosion around 1230 a.m. (1730 GMT), followed by a stampede for the exits.
"Everything went boom and people started running. The fire went very quickly," he told Reuters.
Others described flames licking the ceiling before it caved in.
"I was in the bathroom and when I walked out, I saw flames in the roof and it fell to the floor," 28-year-old Montika Boontang told Reuters in the nearby Bangkok Hospital, where the majority of the injured were being treated.
Thanat Wongsanga, deputy chief of the nearby Thong Lor police station, said the cause of the blaze had not yet been determined. Local media said an electrical fault was probably to blame.
The Health Ministry’s emergency centre said 59 people had been killed and 184 people had been injured.
The dead Sigaporean man was identified as Teo Sze Siong, but forensic experts were unable to identify at least 30 bodies as they had no identification documents with them, doctors said.
Foreigners treated in hospitals included those from Japan, Australia, the Netherlands and France, police said.
Among the most critical was a 25-year-old Japanese man who suffered a 40 percent burn and was in an intensive care unit.
Bangkok’s nightspots, some of which can accommodate several thousand people, have often been the subject of safety concerns, although they have been incident-free for the last five years.
The Thai capital was hit two years ago on New Year’s Eve by a series of small explosions in which several people were killed and dozens injured.
The blasts were blamed variously on fallout from the 2006 coup against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and Muslim militants who have waged a separatist rebellion in Thailand’s southernmost provinces since 2003.