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Hundreds dead in stampede at Phnom Penh water festival

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2010-11-22

A stampede during an annual water festival in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh on Monday left at least 330 people dead, according to state TV reports, and the toll is likely to rise. More than two million people are taking part in the festival.

A stampede during an annual water festival in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh on Monday left at least 330 people dead, state television reported.

"This is the biggest tragedy since the Pol Pot regime," Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said in a live television broadcast, referring to the leader of the brutal regime that ruled between 1975 and 1979.

The panic started on Koh Pich -- Diamond Island -- a long spit of land in the river where a concert was being held. Soft drink vendor So Cheata said the trouble began when about 10 people fell unconscious in the press of the crowd. She said that set off a panic, which then turned into a stampede, with many people caught underfoot.
 
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith gave a similar account of the cause.
 
Part of the crowd pushed onto a bridge, which also jammed up, with people falling under others and off the bridge. Hundreds of hurt people lay on the ground afterward.

Ambulances raced back and forth the river to the hospital for several hours after the stampede, while onlookers and relatives waited outside. The hospital was closed to outsiders, including the press.

Authorities had estimated that upward of 2 million people would descend on Phnom Penh for the three-day water festival, whose main attraction is traditional boat races along the Tonle Sap river. Monday night marked the end of the holiday.
 
Cambodia is one of the region’s poorer countries, and has an underdeveloped health system, with hospitals barely able to cope with daily medical demands.

Date created : 2010-11-22

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