A young teacher told how she is lucky to be alive after she was blown up when a petrol station exploded.
Zoe Eleftheriou, 22, was riding past the petrol station on a moped when it burst into flames and she was blown off the bike.
The English teacher lost her eyebrows and suffered severe facial bruises in the horror blast that claimed three lives, and left another dozen people badly injured.
Zoe and her friend Abbey Alexander, 18, were returning to the school, in Siem Reap, Cambodia, where they teach English, and saw smoke but kept on driving.
A tanker, delivering petroleum gas to the unlicensed garage, then blew up.
Both women were caught up in the fireball, saying it was like ‘walking through flames’.
Somehow, the two managed to make their way to the school.
Zoe said: “The receptionist did not recognise me and I had been working there for six months.
“I was burning and all I wanted was ice and I said ‘I need it now’.”
Eventually she got to a clinic where she contacted her Cambodian family who had taken her under their wing, and her adopted brother Nana rushed to the rescue.
Zoe suffered 40 per cent fourth and fifth degree burns all over her body, badly affecting her left leg, hands and face.
It was thought she would have to spend at least two months in a burns treatment hospital in Bangkok, after the mid-August explosion.
But after gradually coming off the ventilator, which was helping to keep her alive, she was allowed to fly back home to Rochester, Kent, under medical assistance last month.
She said: “At the moment, I have pink, red, white and brown skin and some sexy marks on my feet where my flip-flops had been.
“They say pigmentation can take six months or up to two years to heal.”
Having been bed-ridden for three weeks, she was asked one day if she would like to try to stand.
She said: “Up until then, it sounds horrible, but I was functioning as a vegetable.
“I can’t put weight on my foot, so I can’t walk yet.
“It’s great at the age of 22 that I am no longer in nappies and using a bed-pan.
“The first time I saw my face, I did not like it. I had no eyebrows or lashes and had lost my long hair. It was bright red, apple red, fire red.
“I have had tremendous support from family and friends.
“I don’t know why at Heathrow they wanted to see my passport because I don’t look anything like my passport photo.”
Zoe was also wary of reactions from children and younger relatives.
She said: “One seven year old said ‘You are still the same Zoe, you just look a little different’.”
One fortunate aspect for Zoe is that her medical bills of £215,000 were covered by a £350 travel insurance policy.
Abbey faces a similar treatment bill – but had no cover.
She was paid only £10,000 by the LPG station boss, while Zoe is still battling for compensation.
After her experience, she cannot stress enough the importance to fellow travellers of getting full travel insurance.
She said: “It was on my mum’s tick list before I went anywhere.
“You might say I don’t need it, but you do.”
Zoe first went to Cambodia in 2016 to help out at English summer camps, and fell in love with the South East Asian country so much that despite her harrowing ordeal, she can’t wait to return.
She said: “I just can’t wait to get back out there.”