Cambodia's largest tragedy in over 30 years

16:51, November 24, 2010      

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Cambodia met the largest tragedy in more than 30 years, which was not caused by terrorism, or natural disaster but the stampede during the happy water festival in the country.

About 375 people were killed and 755 others were injured in the stampede on Monday night in central Phnom Penh.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen announced to the nation through television soon after the accident that "This is the biggest tragedy in more than 30 years since the Pol Pot regime." He was referring to the mass killings of the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979.

Hun Sen said the accident happened on the last day of the three- day successful celebration of Water Festival, the biggest annual event and the happiest time for many people around the country, especially, those coming from rural areas.

While the investigation into the cause of the accident is still going on, Cambodia made it clear that the accident has nothing related to terrorism.

Prime Minister Hun Sen took a quick move in setting up a special ad-hoc committee consisting of many government institutions and powerful officials to deal with the accident and made a public statement on the incident and condolences along with other measures that was aimed at helping the victims and their relatives.

The stampede began Monday night when people panicked in a dense crowd on a small bridge connecting to a small newly developed island close to the shore of Mekong River.

While investigation is going on, many speculations to the cause of the accident have been swirled around, such as the panic stemmed from a shout of a fallen bridge, a shout of electrocution, a shout of the fallen women on the bridge or a shout of panic provoked by a picketing boys among others.

Eyewitnesses said hundreds of people tried to escape from the bridge, causing some people dying of suffocation or crushed underfoot or were drown.

Soon after the accident, sounds of siren of cars heard from many corners across the capital of Phnom Penh and most of the state-run hospitals were fully packed with the dead bodies and the injured ones, while at the same time, many sounds of cries heard from the bridge and the surrounding areas.

As of Tuesday afternoon, many parents and relatives were rushing, seeking, weeping and crying at many hospitals in the city, while about 400 coffins had been prepared for the dead bodies.

Those coffins provided by the government along with 5 million riel (about 1,250 U.S. dollars) to each of the dead family.

Government estimated that several millions of people were flocking into the city to enjoy the Water Festival or the Boat Race that began on Saturday with 420 racing boats.

A government official who requested not to be named said on Tuesday that it is a lesson for Phnom Penh authorities and police as well as medical staff to be well prepared for such important and large event.

"During such large and important event, the authorities must have evacuation plan, fire lane and standby medical team," he said, adding that little or less precaution was taken during the event, which is a big lesson learned.

He said he estimated there were about 20 to 25 people were fully packed in a square meter on the bridge just before the accident happened.

Local newspaper Phnom Penh Post on Wednesday quoted a English expert as saying that "in any situation involving large numbers of people, those responsible must conduct a detailed evaluation on the venue and determine its optimum capacity; they must carefully control the rates on ingress and they must manage the crowd's movement inside the venue. " "Understanding crowd dynamics is central to the safe management of an event," he added.

Tea Banh, deputy prime minister and minister of national defense who went to the site of the accident said tens of thousands of people were on the bridge on Monday night when the panic started.

He said that the authorities took a satisfied measure to timely rescue the victims.



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