Nov 24, 2010

Condolences from Khmer Youth Association

Monks bless dead after horror [-Koh Pich bridge: the "gate to hell"]

Nov 24, 2010


Scores of people leapt to their deaths from the pedestrian bridge, unable to swim and dragged under water amid frantic splashing as desperate and panicked people plunged down from above.

While many victims drowned, most perished while trapped under the weight of hundreds of fleeing revellers.

Hours after the tragedy, the scene was untouched. Shoes, flip-flops and ripped clothing piled up a foot high across some parts of the 80m bridge linking Phnom Penh to a gawdy man-made entertainment island packed with restaurants, fairground rides and exhibition centres.

Hundreds of onlookers endured the stench of rotting garbage and tip-toed across the trampled grass to get a glimpse at the place where so many died.

Many people sat in silence on the steep banks of the Tonle Sap, a tributary of the Mekong River, listening to the chanting of hundreds of Buddhist monks who laid flowers and lit incense to bless the dead.

Flags were flown at half mast across the city of about 2 million people, which swelled during the festival as hundreds of thousands flocked in from surrounding provinces for the festival marking the end of the rainy season.

Television repeatedly showed footage of shirtless, shoeless bodies laid out on the ground and on hospital floors, many open-eyed and covered in bruises.

Relatives of the dead wept at the Khmer-Soviet hospital, where more than 100 unclaimed and unidentified bodies, most of them teenagers, lay side-by-side, covered in white sheets.

'I didn't feel safe on the bridge, there were just too many people, so I crossed just in time,' said Bothra Cheahcha, whose friends were among the dead.

'It's tragic and I was so lucky,' he said. 'I feel like I'm reborn, like I have been given a second chance at life.' -- REUTERS
PHNOM PENH - SAFFRON-ROBED Buddhist monks chanted as onlookers gazed silently across a bridge piled with the shoes and torn clothing left behind by victims of a stampede in Cambodia's capital.

The body count stood at 375 by sunset on Tuesday and was expected to rise. Many people were missing and Cambodians had many questions about one of the darkest days of their country's recent and troubled history.

The cause of the stampede on the Diamond Gate bridge late on Monday, the last day of an annual three-day Water Festival, remained a mystery.

'Everyone is shocked that this can happen to us,' said Chhun Sreypong, 45, clutching her one-year-old baby and looking out across Phnom Penh's Tonle Sap river, from where scores of limp bodies were dragged.

'Those who died were mostly youngsters. Many mothers have lost their children. No one knows why this happened.' Survivors gave chilling accounts of being buried under piles of bodies, alive and dead, for as long as three hours, crying for help and clambering for air, open-mouthed as police doused the trapped crowd with water cannons.

'People were shouting for help and began to push,' said Touch Theara, 38, who was among the thousands who flocked to Diamond Island to eat in restaurants, listen to live music and buy cheap clothes. Her sister and her friend died on the bridge, which some described as a 'gate to hell'. About 755 people were injured.

Cambodia mourns festival tragedy


Cambodia mourns stampede victims


Aftermath of the stampede video


Anger and grief as Cambodia mourns stampede dead

November 24, 2010
Kelly Macnamara

Grieving Cambodian families on Wednesday began paying their last respects to relatives among the nearly 380 victims killed in a festival stampede, as anger built over security at the event.

Authorities were probing why the throngs of revellers had panicked at the annual water festival, crushing and trampling people underfoot on an overcrowded narrow bridge in Phnom Penh.

The government admitted it had overlooked issues of crowd control at the three-day event, which attracted some three million revellers to the capital from all over Cambodia.

"We were concerned about the possibilities of boats capsizing and pick-pocketing. We did well, but we did not think about this kind of incident," government spokesman Khieu Kanharith told AFP.

A committee had been set up to investigate the cause of the stampede, he said, adding that a private security firm was in charge of the main festival site Diamond Island and its bridges.

"The place is private, so they used their own security, and police only helped handle order outside," Kanharith said.

As the first funerals and cremations began taking place across the country, bewildered relatives searched for answers.

"I feel very sad and angry about what happened," Phea Channara said at a funeral service for his 24-year-old sister on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

"I wonder if the police really did their job. Why did they allow it to happen in the first place?"

Hun Sangheap -- who was on the bridge minutes before the stampede happened and helped pull out victims -- said the rescuers were slow to respond to the incident.

"The authorities were very late in saving the victims. The company did not manage the security well," the 32-year-old said, referring to the island's private security firm.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has described the disaster as Cambodia's worst tragedy since the Khmer Rouge's 1975-1979 reign of terror, which left up to a quarter of the population dead. Thursday will be a national day of mourning.

At least 378 people were killed in the stampede and another 750 were injured, government spokesman Phay Siphan told AFP on Tuesday.

Exuberant festival-goers had been crossing the bridge to reach an island hosting concerts, food stalls and ice sculptures before the crowd turned to a deadly crush of writhing and then lifeless human bodies.

In scenes replicated across the city, the dead were laid out in rows under a white tent erected in Calmette Hospital car park, their uncovered faces showing that many had sustained bloody bruises during the stampede.

Military trucks later began delivering the victims back to their relatives.

It was not immediately clear what had triggered the disaster, but Kanharith said a rumour had spread among revellers celebrating one of Cambodia's biggest festivals that the bridge was unstable.

He said many of the deaths were caused by suffocation and internal injuries, adding that about two-thirds of those killed were women.

One survivor at Calmette Hospital who suffered serious back injuries recalled the anguish of being unable to help others around him as the surging crowd became a suffocating crush.

"I felt selfish when it happened, but I could not help myself. There was a child trapped under me and I wanted to pull him up but I couldn't," he said, asking not to be named.

The stampede marked a tragic end to the boat races, concerts and fireworks that are traditionally part of the annual festival to celebrate the reversal of the flow between the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers.

The event -- which saw hundreds of brightly coloured boats take part in races on the Tonle Sap -- is popular with tourists but the government said no foreigners were believed to be among the victims.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who visited Cambodia earlier this month, offered her country's "thoughts and prayers" following the disaster. Other countries to send their condolences include Russia, and Asian neighbours Thailand and Singapore.

Cambodian survivors tell of their festival stampede hell

November 24, 2010
Martin Petty and Prak Chan Thul

PHNOM PENH: Buddhist monks chanted as onlookers gazed silently across a bridge piled with the shoes and torn clothing left by victims of a stampede in Cambodia's capital here.

The body count stood at 375 yesterday and was expected to rise. About 755 people were injured and many people are missing.

The stampede on the Diamond Gate bridge occurred late on Monday, the last day of the yearly three-day Water Festival marking the end of the rainy season.

"Everyone is shocked that this can happen to us," said Chhun Sreypong, 45, clutching her baby and looking across Phnom Penh's river, the Tonle Sap, from which scores of bodies were dragged.

"Most of those who died were youngsters."

Survivors told of being buried beneath piles of bodies, of the living and the dead, for as long as three hours, crying for help and fighting for air, as police doused the crowd with water cannons.

"People were shouting for help and began to push," said Touch Theara, 38, who was among the thousands who flocked to Diamond Island for the festivities.

Her sister and her friend died on the bridge, which some described as a "gate to hell".

Not since the era of the ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge three decades ago, during which 1.7 million people were killed in four years, has Cambodia seen such a huge loss of life.

Scores of people leapt to their deaths from the bridge, but most of the victims died trapped under hundreds of stampeding revellers.

Flags were flown at half-mast across the city, whose population of two million people had been swelled by hundreds of thousands of people who flocked from the provinces for the festival.

People sat on the steep banks of the Tonle Sap, a tributary of the Mekong River, as they listened to the chanting of hundreds of Buddhist monks who set down flowers and lit incense to bless the dead

Condolences from KEA Inc.

7863 Broadway, Lemon Grove, California 91945, United States of America (USA)
Tel: (619) 840-6651- Fax: (619) 583-5813 - email:

On behalf of the KHMER ENTERTAINMENT OF AMERICA, Inc. and families of all officers, I am saddened for the loss of hundreds of lives at Koh Pich Bridge, during the last day of Water Festival, in Phnom Penh.

We would like to extend our profound condolences and best wishes for quick recovery to the families and friends of those lost or injured in the unfortunate stampede in Koh Pich.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the victims and with all Khmers inside the country and abroad.


"Koss Pich Pruos Punleu, Khmer Chheu Kann Tuk " a Poem in Khmer by a Group of Poets

Cambodians try to handle aftermath of deadly stampede

November 24 2010
Source: Xinhua

"I went to that island with my boyfriend last night to celebrate the Water Festival, but now I don't know his whereabout...I even don't know whether he is alive or not," said Na Song, a 22-year-old girl lying on a shabby mat along the corridor of the inpatient building of Calmette Hospital.

Na's mother, Thean Veng, said she got the news from Na's friend this morning that her daughter was one of the victims of the deadly stampede on a bridge, connecting an entertainment complex at Diamond Island and the mainland Phnom Penh.

"My daughter had difficulties in breathing and was once in critical condition. Now she still suffers severe stomachache and can eat nothing," said Thean Veng, who was from the Kampong Chuang province.

Monday, the final day of the annual Water Festival of Cambodia, saw at least 375 killed and 755 others injured as a sudden panic among the crowd caused the catastrophic stampede around 9:30 pm local time.

The injuries were rushed to six hospitals across the city, while the medical personnel said they were overwhelmed by so many patients coming up almost at the same time.

Soy Rakmey, a permanent health staff at Calmette Hospital, said that there were 53 patients in this building alone, while many others with minor injuries had left. "We are not worried about the supply of medicines, but we are short of beds," he said.

Beside him, dozens of sufferers of the stampede were lying on the rattan mats, waiting for further diagnosis and treatment.

Vong Sophen, 38, was sitting at the entrance of the inpatient building. His brother Sieng Sanath, 23, hurt his chest in Monday night's crush.

"He is over there," Vong Sophen pointed at a young guy lying indoors on the ground, not far from the entrance, taking drip- feeding. No, he did not know when his brother could be well enough to leave the hospital, said Vong Sophen, adding that he himself, coming all the way from Prey Veng Province on this morning, might have to sleep on the ground just beside his brother tonight.

Calmette Hospital, the largest hospital in the capital city, had seen about 140 deaths from the stampede since Monday night.

Several trucks from the logistics department of the Defense Ministry rested at the yard of the hospital. Meas Thon, a soldier at the department, told reporter that these vehicles are assigned to transport the dead home. "More than 40 trucks started doing this at 2:30 this afternoon," he said.

Not far from Meas Thon, several coffins were being loaded to a truck while on the ground there were a couple of new coffins, still left unpainted.

What led to the deadly stampede remains unclear. Some victims and eyewitnesses said the tragedy occurred due to rumors that the bridge was broken. Some believed a girl who got fainted among the crowd spurred the turmoil. Some blamed a siren blaring for the panic and some think it was the worry of a looming rain that made the crowd rush to the bridge to return home at the same time.

Nobody expected so many people would show up, said Pung Kheau Se, President of Candia Bank, who is also the owner of Diamond Island.

The three-day Water Festival, the largest annual festival in the Southeast Asian nation, attracted over 3 million Cambodians, many from rural areas, converging to the capital city to enjoy the regatta. And the Diamond Island just completed its construction to entertain the public in its first Water Festival.

"The control of pedestrian flow will be the main preventive measure we take in the future, " said Pung Kheau Se, as he came up at Calmette Hospital Tuesday afternoon to give his condolences to the victims there.

He said the rescue work by the government was quick and timely so that even bigger casualties were prevented. He also showed his gratefulness to the charity groups and volunteers who came to help the hospitals, which were struggling to deal with hundreds of patients.

About 70 patients with minor injuries had been discharged, according to a doctor from Calmette. The trauma of Cambodian people, however, may last much longer than their physical pains.

Chek Chan, a 28-year-old man, took his two nieces and a younger brother to join the celebration Monday night but failed to bring back even one of them alive. And he saw his brother was buried underneath the ever-mounting crush.

"I am very, very sorry to see him killed with my own eyes," he said, tears in eyes.

With the stench of death in the air, Phnom Penh hurries along

Wednesday, 24 November 2010
By Trevor Simons, an Australian travelling in Cambodia

This morning the sun rose on Cambodia just like every other day. People began their business just like every other day. Today is not like any other day.

In the early hours of this morning at least 300 people were killed in a stampede on Diamond Island’s north bridge. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen called the event “the biggest tragedy since the Pol Pot regime”.

Last night I ventured into the warm air planning to attend the water festival. Sharing a tuk-tuk with three others we made it only as far as closest major road. For an hour we inched painfully along a swarm of motos, tuk-tuks, buses, cars and people. The heat from the engines was unbearable. Motos climbed footpaths, tuk-tuks scraped cars and horns saturated the air. Young, well-dressed Khmer looked bright-eyed and excited. Drunk men frantically forced their motos forward where there was no room. Overheating tuk-tuks blew black smoke as their hapless drivers waded against the surging traffic. It was chaos. We abandoned the tuk-tuk and carefully walked home.

This morning I awoke to several calls inquiring about my well-being. It wasn’t until I read the news did I understand. My heart sank.

People were already busy at work as the sun spread across the city. From a cafe I watched yellow uniformed cleaners sweep rubbish with straw brooms, construction workers dismantle stages and rusted tug boats manoeuvre floating stages against the Mekong banks. Everything was carrying on as usual.

A small TV sat above the counter. It was locked on a Khmer channel. Gruesome images of the tragedy were being shown over and over as a panel of Khmer news readers discussed the event. A young waitress handed me a menu. I inquired about her family and friends. She smiled and assured me everything was OK and that she had enjoyed the weekend festivities. After some moments reading the menu I turned back to the television. The channel had been changed.

Several other tourists entered the cafe and asked about the young woman’s well-being. She politely smiled and said that everything was fine. The tourists returned to discussion about the event, heat, overcrowding, future travel plans and other related subjects.

The cause of the stampede is of some conjecture. Several newspapers report that sections of the crowd, upon hearing the bridge was collapsing, panicked. Others report police began firing a water cannon into the crowd in an effort to keep them moving, which not only created panic but also caused electrocution as the bridge was festooned with electric lights.

Reading the articles sparked my curiosity to see the site itself, but then I recalled reading that Phnom Penh experiences an influx of 2 million people during the water festival. I decided to take a trip just out of town to watch the masses return to the provinces. One after another obscenely filled vehicle passed by. A handful of trucks towed dragon boats. Groups of men sat atop vans and flat bed trucks singing loudly, beating drums. Occasionally a vehicle would run off the side of the road kicking dust onto the following motos. People waved and yelled hello. Everybody was smiling.

It grew hotter. I wondered if they had even heard about the stampede. Even if they had, would it have made a difference? I have not known a people to be as gracious, open or resilient as the Khmer.

I believe resilience is the reason life in Phnom Penh continues today as normal. I continue to be totally and utterly astounded by my time in Cambodia. Each new experience gives me further insight into the Khmer psyche. Even following the tragic event this morning and although in private morning the Khmer show astonishing strength and unbreakable will.

This evening the sun will set on Cambodia just like every other day. People will retire to their homes just like every other day. But today is not like any other day.

Nov 23, 2010

Cambodia stampede (Photos)

The coffins of Bun Ratha and his wife, Sim Ratanak, are pictured at a funeral in Kandal province. Ratha and Ratanak died at a stampede on the Diamond Gate bridge during the annual three-day Water Festival. (Chor Sokunthea/Reuters)

At least 378 people have died in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and the city is steeling itself for that number to rise. People celebrating the end of the rainy season got caught up in a stampede as they crossed a narrow bridge Monday. In panic, the crowd trampled on itself, and many fell over into the river below.

Buddhist monks take part in a religious ceremony to mourn the deaths of stampede victims. (Chor Sokunthea/Reuters)

Women cry as they prepare to carry home the body of their loved one from a makeshift morgue inside the Calmette hospital in Phnom Penh. (Hoang Dinh Nam/AFP)

People look at pictures of victims of the stampede posted on a billboard outside the Calmette hospital. (Hoang Dinh Nam/AFP)

Bodies of stampede victims are lined up at the Preah Kossamak Hospital. (Chor Sokunthea/Reuters)

Cambodia stampede: 'I was in the middle. Everyone was falling'

Ben Doherty speaks to survivors of the crush that Cambodia's PM called 'the greatest tragedy in more than 31 years'

Ben Doherty in Phnom Penh, Tuesday 23 November 2010
Police begin their investigations amid the belongings left behind by victims of the festival crush on Rainbow Bridge. Photograph: Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP/Getty Images

On Monday night this week the streets of Phnom Penh were full, there were market stalls and music, fairground rides and partygoers crowding every available inch of space in the city.

Sopheap Meng and his older brother Sovaan were on the Rainbow Bridge, a structure spanning barely 50 metres, connecting Cambodia's capital with Koh Pich, also known as Diamond Island, at the heart of the annual Water Festival.

The three-day festival, Bon Om Touk, is the biggest party of the year here. It causes the normally sleepy city to swell by more than 2 million people, international and domestic visitors coming for the parties and the boat races, and to give thanks for the end of the rainy season.

But shortly before 10pm, the night of celebration turned disastrous. A big crowd of people packed on to the narrow Rainbow footbridge panicked, surged and created a crush.

In a few terrifying minutes the crush led to deaths of 378 or more people, and left more than 700 injured. Cambodia's prime minister, Hun Sen, described the occurrence as the greatest tragedy to befall the country since the blood-soaked rule of the Khmer Rouge.

Most of those who died were from the rural areas, unwilling to jump from the bridge because they could not swim; they did not know the water was only waist deep. Most were young, and most women, unable to resist the weight of humanity pushing them to the ground. They suffocated on the bridge, or drowned having fallen unconscious into the water.

Sopheap Meng had gripped his brother's hand as tightly as he could. He fought the crush pushing him to the ground.

"But there was no air, I could not breathe. I got pushed to the side of the bridge, people were falling all around, on to my arm, and I had to let go." Rescued by police from the crush which had pinned his legs, it was hours before 18-year-old Sopheap found his brother again. Sovaan's corpse was pulled from the heap of bodies on Rainbow Bridge.

What sparked the panic is the subject of countless theories. Some at the scene yesterday said it started when word swept among the tightly packed crowd that the bridge was about to collapse. One witness said he saw the bridge bouncing under the weight of the people.

Others said the panic started when the multicoloured lights strung from the suspension ropes began sparking.

There were still more rumours – of mass food poisoning starting the crush, or a gang of youths robbing the crowd. It could be that there were just too many people on the narrow concrete footbridge.

The Rainbow Bridge was built this year, and only open for the festival. It was supposed to be a one-way system, leading people from the island to the city. People trying to get on to the island were meant to take a second bridge, which was 200 metres to the south. But the Rainbow Bridge was closer to the action and, amid the excitement and the celebrations, the regulations were relaxed.

Lin was right in the middle of the bridge with his girlfriend Ni when the crush became unbearable.

"I realised I could not move," Lin told the Guardian. "I could not go back, I could not go forward. People were pushing from everywhere and there was nothing I could do. I was right in the middle, everyone around me was falling, one on top of another, they were being crushed. There were dead people all around me." His girlfriend survived too, shaken but uninjured. "We are the lucky ones today. One in 1,000 lucky. Two more minutes and I would have fallen too."

Yesterday the bridge remained littered with the evidence of the tragedy: there were thousands of shoes, shirts and hats, left behind in the terror that consumed those caught in the crush. Police and army officers pored over the items for clues.

On the banks of the Bassac river, relatives of the victims made Buddhist offerings and prayed for the lost.

At the nearby Calmette hospital a makeshift open-air morgue was laid out in the grounds. Bodies were arranged in lines on straw mats inside a large white tent.

Family members peered through open windows, searching for their loved ones. Those identified were covered with a white sheet, those unknown were left exposed so that they could be claimed. Flies buzzed constantly in the stifling heat.

Boupha Lak sat at her dead daughter's feet, gentling stroking them, waiting for the paperwork to be completed so she could take her home.

Boupha said: "She went to the festival to see her friends, but she was alone on the bridge when it happened – her friends I have seen today, they were on the other side. She was found on the bridge, crushed underneath all the other bodies. They told me she was on the bottom."

In the heat of midday, coffins lined with wallpaper began arriving in army lorries. They were given out to the family members of victims, along with transport to take their loved ones home.

One woman wailed at the pile of wooden coffins, her daughter's name scrawled in text on the lid of one. "It's not fair," she cried. "My daughter doesn't deserve this. She deserved a long life."

Cambodia is a country much too used to tragedy, its people weary of loss and of suffering. The prime minister acknowledged as much when he spoke in the middle of the night on Monday. "This is the greatest tragedy in more than 31 years after the Pol Pot regime," Hun Sen said in reference to the Khmer Rouge, whose regime killed a quarter of the Cambodian population, an estimated 1.7 million people, between 1975-79. "I ask you all to understand me and forgive me for this very bad situation."

The prime minister declared Thursday a day of mourning, and he promised compensation of 5m riel (about £780) to the families of those killed and 1m riel to those who were injured.

In the late afternoon, more than one hundred monks held a Buddhist vigil at the bridge, burning incense and offering prayers for the souls of the deceased.

By sunset, all the bodies had been cleared from the makeshift morgue at Calmette hospital. Army lorries bound for the provinces, loaded with plain brown coffins and grieving relatives, rolled out of the city all evening.

Cambodia Mourns in Aftermath of Bridge Stampede

Reporters, VOA Khmer
Phnom Penh Tuesday, 23 November 2010

via CAAI

Photo: by Heng Reaksmey
Earlier today, in Cambodia, a group of monks and officials pray for victims near the site where people stampeded during Monday's water festival in Phnom Penh.

“My sister's body was blackened on the hands, chest, stomach and feet, like people had stomped on her.”

The day after the largest tragedy in recent Cambodian history, hospitals were overwhelmed with family members as they searched for lost loved ones.

Hospitals were lined with the bodies of the dead, with disaster authorities claiming they had so far only identified 60 percent of the victims.

Bodies were put in coffins and shipped to their home provinces for burial, as the government declared Thursday a national day of mourning and established an investigative committee.

Officials say at least 378 people were killed during a crowd stampede on a bridge near Diamond Island, on the riverfront, following annual Water Festival festivities.

Revelry turned to tragedy as a crowd in the thousands, trapped on the bridge, panicked, crushing some underfoot as others jumped into the river to escape. More than 700 people were wounded in the event, which had emergency crews scrabbling through the early morning hours Tuesday.

Hospitals were filled with the bodies of the dead, lined up along the floor, where loved ones were forced to search for the lost.

Horn Sam An, 41, in L'vea Em district, Kandal province, found her sister dead after she spent from midnight to 8 am searching three hospitals before finding her at a fourth, Calmette.

Soa Sok, 37, from Kampong Cham province, said he walked with three friends from hospital to hospital to find his missing brother. He had still not found him as of Tuesday afternoon.

In a national address, Prime Minister Hun Sen called the tragedy the worst since the Khmer Rouge, and he appointed one investigative committee to learn the reason for the disaster and a second committee to help the families of victims.

Nhim Vanda, deputy chief of the National Disaster Committee, said health officials were performing examinations of the bodies and identifying them for families.

“And then we put the bodies in white cloth and plastic in a coffin and are transporting the bodies to their respective homes for traditional ceremonies,” he said. “The government has paid everything for all the bodies of families for transport and ceremony.”

Bodies were sent back home via ambulances, military trucks and other vehicles.

Prum Sokha, secretary of state for the Interior Ministry and the head of the investigative committee, called for the survivors and other witnesses to help by providing information to the authorities.

Family members who came to Calmette Tuesday morning described bruised and broken bodies.

“My sister's body was blackened on the hands, chest, stomach and feet, like people had stomped on her,” said Sok Navy, 41, from Kandal province.

But there were those too who escaped the stampede with their lives. Pheoung Srey Leak, a 22-year-old survivor, said she was trapped on the crowded bridge for four hours.

“It was very stuff, and no air,” she said. “I couldn't walk out of the crowd. I had a feeling I was probably not alive, and I was hopeless.... I was determined not to faint. If I had fainted and fallen down, I would have been stomped to death by other people.”

But she did faint, she said, and she couldn't breathe. “When I woke up, I was in the emergency room of Calmette hospital,” she said.

For those who died, some 4,000 Buddhist monks held a ceremony of prayer Tuesday afternoon.

The government has declared Thursday a national day of mourning, and groups from around the country have pledged their support to the families of victims.

Former king Norodom Sihanouk and his son, the king, Norodom Sihamoni, expressed condolences for lost loved ones and promised $200 to the families of the deceased and $100 to the families of the injured.

Students from 10 separate universities have established the 2211 foundation, named for the date of the incident, to gather funds for the families.

“And to march on Nov. 25 to pay respect to the souls of the deceased,” said Toch Norin, a student representative.

Political parties and development agencies issued their own condolences, along with others.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement on behalf of President Barrack Obama, saying: “I have seen their strength and resilience first hand, including during my recent visit, and I am confident that they will pull together and persevere through this difficult time.”

But questions over how the tragedy happened, and the response, remain.

The Asian Human Rights Commission issued a statement of condolence that also questioned security measures in the capital during the massive festival, saying: “It is clear that Phnom Penh was unprepared for any large-scale disaster.”

Relatives of the Disappeared Looking For Dead Bodies


US sends condolences to Cambodia

via CAAI

WASHINGTON - THE United States on Monday extended its 'deep condolences' for the nearly 350 lives lost during deadly stampede in Cambodia's capital.

'On behalf of President (Barack) Obama and the people of the United States, I offer our deep condolences for the tragic loss of life and the injuries in Phnom Penh during Cambodia's annual Water Festival,' said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

'Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the victims and with all the people of the Kingdom of Cambodia,' she added in a statement.

Mrs Clinton remarked on the 'strength and resilience' of the Cambodian people she observed 'first hand' during her recent visit earlier this month to the country, adding: 'I am confident that they will pull together and persevere through this difficult time.'

Cambodia began the grim task on Tuesday of identifying 347 people - two thirds of them women - crushed to death in a bridge stampede when revellers panicked at a huge water festival in Phnom Penh.

More than 400 people were also injured in the disaster, Cambodia's deadliest in decades, which took place late on Monday on an overcrowded narrow bridge as millions celebrated the end of the annual three-day event. -- AFP

Country profile: Cambodia

The Southeast Asian nation has emerged from decades of conflict, but continues to face many challenges.

Last Modified: 22 Nov 2010

Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy in Southeast Asia. King Norodom Sihamoni has reigned since 2004.

Theravada Buddhism is the official religion of Cambodia, which is practiced by around 96 per cent of the Cambodian population. The majority of Cambodians describe themselves to be Khmers, descendants of the Angkor Empire. The country's minority include Cham, ethnic Chinese, Vietnamese and various tribal groups.

Three-quarters of Cambodians depend on the land to make a living and agriculture remains the most important sector. Many farmers have been forced to sell their land to cope with financial pressures in recent years and land grabbing is a major issue.

Oil and nature gas deposits were found in Cambodian waters in 2005. Extraction is set to begin in 2011 and is predicted to have a transformative effect on the country's economy.

While there has been rapid economic growth in the past decade, this has come with a rising gap between the country’s poor and rich. Economic and political power remains in the hands of a small number of elites.

Cambodia is ranked 136 out of 179 in UNDP's Human Development Index (2008), the lowest among East Asian countries. More than a third of Cambodia's population live on less than $1 per day.

Illegal logging is prevalent throughout the country, leading to soil erosion and declining biodiversity. Fish stocks are also in decline because of overfishing.

There are up to one million small arms and light weapons in circulation in Cambodia and weapons remain "dangerously easy to obtain" and selling for as little as $25, according to Oxfam, a UK-based international development NGO.

Broadcast media is a mixture of state-owned, joint public-private, and privately-owned.

Tragic past

Cambodia was "protected" from its neighbours by the French from 1863, and became part of French Indochina in 1887.

Occupied by the Japanese during World War Two, the country won independence from the French in November 1953.

The Communist Khmer Rouge forces captured Phnom Penh in April 1975, after five years of fighting.

Executions, forced labour and starvation devastated the population. More than 1.5 million Cambodians died from atrocities committed during the Khmer Rouge regime.

The Vietnamese invaded in December 1978, driving the Khmer Rouge into the countryside. Vietnamese occupation was to last a decade and triggered 13 years of civil war.

The Paris Peace Accords in 1991 mandated democratic elections and a ceasefire, although the Khmer Rouge did not fully abide by it.

Some surviving Khmer Rouge leaders are awaiting trial for crimes against humanity by a hybrid UN-Cambodian tribunal supported by international assistance.

Nov 22, 2010

Hundreds Die in Stampede on Cambodian Island

November 22, 2010
The New York Times

BANGKOK — More than 300 people were killed and hundreds more were injured in a stampede at an annual water festival in Cambodia that the prime minister on Tuesday called the nation’s worst tragedy since the murderous Khmer Rouge regime more than three decades ago.

Witnesses in Phnom Penh, the capital, said the stampede began Monday night when people panicked in a dense crowd on a small island close to the shore of the Bassac River.

Hundreds of people tried to escape over a short suspension bridge. Many died of suffocation or were crushed underfoot or were electrocuted by loose wires. Many drowned when they leaped from the suspension bridge into the water.

The night was filled with the constant sound of sirens and, at the scene and in the hospital, with the wailing of people discovering dead friends or relatives.

“This is the biggest tragedy in more than 31 years since the Pol Pot regime,” Prime Minister Hun Sen said in one of several television announcements through the night, referring to the mass killings of the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979.

Millions of people pour into the capital each year and line the river’s shores and islands in densely packed crowds for a boat race that is the climax of the water festival. The last boat race ended early Monday evening, the final night of the holiday, and a concert was being held on the island, called Diamond Island, a long spit of land close to the royal palace on the shore.

There was no confirmation of the cause of the stampede, but Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said it began when what he said were one million people became “scared of something.”

The police and rescuers had to fight their way through crowds, sometimes beating people with their belts to get through, according to reports from the scene.

Video from the site showed scenes of horror with bodies lying here and there and frantic rescuers rushing among them.

People staggered from the scene either alone or supported on both sides by rescuers. Some sat on the ground, holding their hands to their chests and breathing with difficulty.

Other people carried bodies, both the dead and the badly injured, by their arms and legs; they knelt on the ground fanning those who were still alive or trying to perform CPR; they loaded the dead and badly injured onto flatbed trucks or the backs of motorcycles and packed them into ambulances.

People searched, weeping, through the corridors of the hospital, where bodies lay on the floor wrapped in woven mats or under sarongs. Hospital workers threw white sheets over groups of bodies on the floor. White coated hospital personnel hurried through rooms jammed with cots.

The brightly lit suspension bridge with its delicate fretwork was carpeted with the shoes and bits of clothes of those who had been crushed or fled.

Cambodia Water Festival turns tragic with deadly stampede

At least 339 people died in the stampede, according to Prime Minister Hun Sen, who called it a terrible tragedy. The Water Festival has seen troubles in past years.

November 22, 2010
By Julie Masis, Correspondent
Christian Science Monitor

Phnom Penh, Cambodia - A stampede in Cambodia late Monday night killed at least 339 people and injured as many more, with hospital officials projecting the death toll would continue to rise.

The stampede happened during Cambodia's annual Water Festival, which drew a record 4 million people from around the country and region to watch three days of traditional boat races on the Bassac River in the capital.

Prime Minister Hun Sen called it the "biggest tragedy since the Pol Pot regime." While the comparison is extreme – the Khmer Rouge caused the deaths up to 2 million people in the late 1970s – this is the most deadly incident at a festival plagued by repeated problems.

A Singaporean boat capsized in 2008 and killed five rowers, and one Cambodian rower drowned in 2009. The latest incident raises questions whether the government has the capabilities to handle the ever larger festival crowds, which have increased by several million people in recent years and overwhelmed Phnom Penh's facilities.

The stampede broke out on a recently built bridge that crosses from the mainland over the Bassac River to Diamond Island, where a concert was held Monday night to conclude the Water Festival.

Yan San, who was visiting from outside the city, says the bridge became clogged at 9 p.m., a stampede began at 11 p.m., and he himself was stuck on the bridge until 1 a.m. with is legs injured.

“People were stuck on the bridge, they could not move, so they pushed others into the water," says Mr. Yan, sitting in a wheelchair outside Calmette Hospital, where he and hundreds of others were being treated. "I was stuck on the bridge for five hours and I could not move."

Prime Minister Hun Sen addressed the nation at 2:30 a.m. local time and updated the toll to 339 people dead and 329 injured, according to the Phnom Penh Post. “With this miserable event, I would like to share my condolences with my compatriots and the family members of the victims,” he said.

As the night wore on at Calmette, more than 50 bodies were laid in the hospital's courtyard for family members to identify. Ambulances continued to arrive early into Tuesday morning. The hospital was inundated with patients sitting in hallways and lying on floors awaiting treatment.

The exact cause of the stampede was unclear. Reuters reported that a scare was set off when several people were electrocuted from an unknown source. CNN reported that Cambodian police sparked the stampede by firing a water canon at pedestrians to get them to move off the bridge.

“A lot of people jumped into the water because they knew how to swim and they were scared they would die otherwise," says Kim Houng, who was being treated at Calmette early Tuesday morning after passing out on the bridge.

“If I was on the side of the bridge, I would have jumped in the water, too.”


Cambodia stampede: 'Bodies stacked upon bodies' in Phnom Penh tragedy

Crowd panicked while crossing a bridge and were crushed underfoot on the final day of the Water Festival

Monday 22 November 2010
Haroon Siddique

More than 300 people were killed and hundreds injured tonight after a stampede broke out among crowds taking part in a festival in the Cambodian capital.

People panicked as they tried to make their way over a densely packed bridge and many were crushed underfoot or fell over the sides during the final day of the Water festival, one of the main events of the year in Cambodia. One witness who arrived shortly after the stampede said there were "bodies stacked on bodies".

Describing the chaos as the "biggest tragedy" to strike his country since the killings under the Khmer Rouge's reign of terror in the 1970s, the prime minister, Hun Sen, said that 339 people had been killed and 329 injured. State television said at least 240 of the dead were women, according to reports from two city hospitals.

Ambulances raced back and forth between the river and the hospitals for several hours after the stampede, as the dead and injured were taken away from the scene, which was littered with hundreds of shoes left behind by the living and the dead. Rescuers also looked in the darkness for the bodies of the drowned.

Amid desperate scenes at Calmette hospital, Phnom Penh's main medical facility, wards were filled to capacity with bodies as well as patients, some of whom had to be treated in hallways. One doctor said the two major causes of death were suffocation and electrocution.

But despite suggestions that some of the dead had been electrocuted by the lights on the bridge, the Cambodian government insisted that no one was electrocuted. Many of the injured were badly hurt, raising the prospect that the death toll could rise as hospitals became overwhelmed.

In the third of three post-midnight live television broadcasts, the prime minister said that he had ordered an investigation and declared that Thursday would be a national day of mourning.

A Cambodian embassy official in Washington said that 4 million people had descended on Phnom Penh for the three-day water festival, which marks the end of the rainy season and whose main attraction is the traditional boat races.

The last race ended early on Monday evening, the last night of the holiday, and the panic started later on Koh Pich Diamond Island, a long spit of land wedged in a fork in the river, where a concert was being held. Seeking to escape the island, part of the crowd pushed on to a bridge, which also jammed up, with people falling under others and into the water

Hundreds die in tragic end to water festival

A mourner weeps amid several covered bodies at Calmette Hospital early this morning following a stampede that killed hundreds on the northen Koh Pich bridge during the water festival. (Photo by: Pha Lina)
Tuesday, 23 November 2010
The Phnom Penh Post Staff

Hundreds died and hundreds more were injured last night in a stampede on Diamond Island’s north bridge, bringing a tragic close to the final day of water festival celebrations in Phnom Penh.

Prime Minister Hun Sen announced via video conference at 2:30am that 339 people had been confirmed dead and 329 injured.

“With this miserable event, I would like to share my condolences with my compatriots and the family members of the victims,” he said.

This needs to be investigated more.”

A committee would be set up to examine the incident.

“This is the biggest tragedy since the Pol Pot regime,” he said, adding that Cambodia would hold a national day of mourning tomorrow.

The cause of the stampede has not yet been confirmed, but Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said it happened because “one million people”, many of whom were leaving the island, became “scared of something.”

Municipal Police Chief Touch Naruth also could not confirm the series of events that led to the disaster.

“People were afraid and began to trample each other and some jumped into the river,” he said at the scene.

Bedlam ensued as the frenzied crowd began to push its way off the bridge, causing a jam that made it nearly impossible to breathe, according to witnesses.

With no other escape route, hundreds of people began jumping off the suspension bridge.

Sirens started to awaken city residents minutes later as ambulances, police cars and emergency vehicles began rushing to the scene, where they had to clear away the crowd before reaching victims.

Boats were called in to pull people out of the water and ferry others across the narrow Bassac River to the shore in front of the Royal Palace, where emergency workers fought through the crowd of frantic onlookers to care for the injured.

The bodies of victims were taken away in ambulances, flat-bed trucks and motor-bikes to area hospitals as police struggled to clear away the crowd by shouting, pushing and beating them back with their belts.

As the scene cleared, many bodies remained on the road, which was littered with shoes, shirts, pants and other objects dropped in the mayhem. Pieces of cardboard were placed over the heads of those obviously dead, while bystanders fanned people thought to be still alive.

Area hospitals confirmed that hundreds were either dead on arrival or died soon after, with witnesses on hand giving various explanations for the initial cause of the stampede and the actual cause of deaths.

A doctor at Calmette hospital, who declined to give his name, said after a preliminary assessment the principal causes of death among the victims he had examined were suffocation and electrocution.

Ouk Sokhhoeun, 21, was at the scene with his sister, 23-year-old Ouk Srey Mom, who was left unconscious and taken to Calmette hospital, said that military police started firing water cannons into the crowd on the bridge after the stampede had already caused scores of people to fall unconscious.

He said the water caused many people on the bridge to receive electric shocks from the cables lighting the bridge, at which point “some police also received electric shocks”.

Victims from Koh Pich


Additional videos from Youtube: TV footage Click to Read More... Posted by KI Media | Permalink | | 18 comments | Links to this post Labels: Koh


Video on Koh Pich


Eyewitness account at Koh Pich

By Azuriel

Just arrived back home after the missus and I spent some 4 hours stuck on Koh Pich ... we were just about to cross back to the mainland from the island when the stampede started, and police started cordoning the area off ... total chaos' prolly the best way to describe it ...

spent most of my 4 hours trying to help out, inclusing performing CPR on 4 girls that got fished out of the river ... unfortunately only managed to revive 2 of them ... ( ... of the other 2, only 1 had a pulse when they rushed her to hospital, but nevertheless, hope the ambulance crews managed to do more than my meagre first aid skills ...

From talking to the locals, some of the security and event management staff, and first-hand experience, I gather the following chain of events occurred; not sure these events occurred in this order though, but it's close:
- about 30-odd people were electrocuted (few direct deaths, but many losing consciousness, suffering severe burns) from contact with the metal guard rails on either side of the bridge ...
- about a dozen people fainted from the crush of the crowd, heat exhaustion, dehydration, or a combination of these, and fell underfoot ...
- Crowd panicked from the electrocutions and surged into a stampede; More people tripped or got pushed over, and got trampled underfoot ...
- People started jumping off the bridge into the river below to escape the mob; some were electrocuted climbing over the railings; some died from jumping into shallow water, or missing the water altogether, and landing on the concrete escarpments. One of the girls I performed CPR on had a nasty gash stretching from her collarbone down to just past her belly button ... not bleeding too badly, but was still a pain to patch up half-decently ...
- Curious onlookers surged towards the bridge from both ends trying to find out what was going on. POLICE WERE VERY FORCEFULLY PUSHING BYSTANDERS BACK, USING FISTS, BATONS, PISTOLS, AND PIECES OF METAL PIPING!!! ==>> AND IN PARTICULAR, SHAME SHAME SHAME ON THE BIG BLACK GUY WITH THE AMERICAN ACCENT THAT PHYSICALLY ASSAULTED MY WIFE AND I, NOT ONCE BUT TWICE: WHEN I TRACK DOWN YOUR DETAILS, I'LL BE USING ALL MY POLICE AND LEGAL CONTACTS TO PRESS CHARGES!! <<== Wish more foreigners could've put their energies into helping the wounded, as opposed to bashing up on the innocent bystanders ...
- Some police near the Koh Pich end of the bridge fired warning shops to try to disperse the crowd, but it only served to set off a 2nd panic, since no-one at that stage knew who was shooting, nor at who or what ...
- The crowd was warned to stay away from the metal guard rails along the easter edge of Koh Pich, for fear of electrocution. Around the same time, all the neon lights on the bridge were turned off, along with most of the street lamps along the eastern shore of the island.

As of 3am on Tuesday morning, the official death toll sits at 332 deaths, and 329 injured ...

a moment of silence please ...

ironically, the bayon TV concert a couple of hundred metres away blasted on throughout all of this ... ... ...


CNN news blog: Stampede allegedly started by cops firing water cannon on the crowd

Cambodian minister: 339 dead in stampede


[Updated at 4:25 p.m.] Steve Finch, a Phnom Penh Post reporter, told CNN that the stampede at the water festival in Phnom Penh began around 10 p.m. Monday (10 a.m. ET), when police began firing a water cannon onto a bridge to an island in the center of a river.

The bridge was packed with people, and police fired the water cannon in an effort to get them to move, he said.

"That just caused complete and utter panic," he told CNN in a telephone interview. He said a number of people lost consciousness and fell into the water; some may have died by electric shock, he said.

Watch: "It was chaos," reporter says

Finch cited witnesses as saying that the bridge was festooned with electric lights, which may have played a role in the deaths.

The government denied anyone died by electric shock.

But a doctor who declined to be identified publicly said the main cause of death was suffocation and electric shock. Police were among the dead, he said.

While Finch said the incident apparently coincided with the firing of the water cannon, a witness, Ouk Sokhhoeun, 21, told the Phnom Penh Post that the stampede began first.

In addition to the 339 people who have been confirmed dead, 329 people were injured, Prime Minister Hun Sen said, according to The Phnom Penh Post.

The incident happened on the final day of the three-day festival, according to The Phnom Peng Post. The festival, which attracts people from all over Cambodia, is held annually to commemorate a victory by the Cambodian naval forces during the 12th century reign of King Jayavarman VII, according to the Tourism Cambodia website.

[Updated at 3:37 p.m.] Steve Finch, a Phnom Penh Post reporter, told CNN there were reports from witnesses of people electrocuted as police fired water cannons at people on the bridge to hurry them along causing the stampede.

According to a Radio Australia report, a big crowd watching the annual water festival panicked when a number of people were apparently electrocuted on the bridge.

Cambodian authorities say hundreds of people were either crushed in the resulting stampede or drowned when they fell or jumped into the river.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has given several post-midnight live broadcasts to update the country. In one, according to the Associated Press, he called the stampede the "biggest tragedy" in Cambodia since the Khmer Rouge reign of terror in the 1970s.

He also ordered all government ministries to fly the flag at half-staff and said there would be a national day of morning.

[Updated at 3:05 p.m.] Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said on state-run TV he was unsure yet as to what caused the stampede.

"This needs to be investigated more," Hun Sen said, according to an AFP report.

Hun Sen said a committee would be set up to examine the incident.

The Associated Press, Reuters and AFP reported that witnesses said 10 people had either collapsed or become unconscious during the festival, triggering the panic.

That led, they reported, to people rushing towards a bridge headed toward Diamond Island. That's when things got worse, a witness told AFP.

"We were crossing the bridge to Diamond Island when people started pushing from the other side. There was lots of screaming and panic," 23-year-old Kruon Hay told AFP. "People started running and were falling over each other. I fell too. I only survived because other people pulled me up. Many people jumped in the water."

Sok Sambath, governor of the capital's Daun Penh district, told AFP "this is the biggest tragedy we have ever seen."

iReport: Are you there? Send photos, videos, descriptions

[Updated at 2:41 p.m.] Khieu Kanharith, the Cambodian Minister of Information, has said the death toll from the stampede has now reached 339.

The three-day festival attracts people from all over Cambodia - and around the world - to the Royal palace. The festival is held annually to commemorate a victory by the Cambodian naval forces during the 12th century reign of King Jayvarman VII, according to the Tourism Cambodia website.

The festival is also used to pray for a good rice harvest, sufficient rain and to celebrate the full moon, the site says. The festival dates back to before the 7th century.

At night, the boats on the river are illuminated with neon lights and there is a fireworks display.

A stampede occurred during a water festival in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

[Updated at 2:36 p.m.] Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Monday on state-run Bayon Television that more than 200 people have died in the water festival stampede.

Officers with the Prime Ministers Bodyguard Unit stood outside a local hospital trying to help those who brought injured and control the scene of chaos outside.

Hundreds of shoes, clothing and personal items still littered the streets, the bridge and the underlying water near where the festival took place. The road on the bridge was so covered you could barely see the surface.

[Updated at 2:26 p.m.] Ambulances appeared to be making runs back and forth between the scene of the stampede and the hospital - dropping off the injured and then speeding away again, video on state-run Bayon Television showed.

Doctors stood outside a hospital, trying to direct traffic, between ambulances and vehicles of regular citizens bringing in the injured.

Friends and family clutched some the injured already in the hospital while others raced from the streets clutching the injured in the arms.

[Updated at 2:23 p.m.] Video from state-run Bayon Television in Cambodia showed panic in the streets and outside local hospitals.

Dozens of injured people appeared to be laying on what appeared to be the waiting room floor of a hospital with IV lines hooked up to them that were strung across benches.

[Updated at 2:04 p.m.] Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Monday on state-run Bayon Television that 180 people have died in the water festival stampede.

"With this miserable event, I would like to share my condolences with my compatriots and the family members of the victims," he said, according to AFP.

More than 4 million people were attending the Water Festival when the stampede occurred, said Visalsok Nou, a Cambodian Embassy official in Washington.

[Posted at 1:55 p.m.] More than 100 people were killed Monday in a stampede that occurred during a festival near Cambodia's royal palace in Phnom Penh, a Cambodian Embassy official in Washington said.

This story is developing. We'll bring you the latest information as soon as we get it.