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Investigators say swaying bridge sparked deadly stampede

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-11-24

An investigation into the deadly stampede that resulted in hundreds of deaths in Phnom Penh Monday has reported that the panic was sparked when thousands of people tried to flee after the bridge they were on began swaying.

AP - An investigation into a stampede at a festival in the Cambodian capital that killed hundreds of revelers initially concluded it was set off when a crowded bridge started swaying and caused mass panic.

Bayon TV, which serves as a mouthpiece for the government, reported Wednesday an official committee set up to probe Monday’s tragedy found many people on the bridge were from the countryside and unaware it was normal for a suspension bridge to sway. In their fear it was collapsing, they tried to run off.

The TV report gave the total number of casualties as 750, of whom 350 died, which was lower than the 378 dead and 755 injured officials announced Tuesday. Asked about the discrepancy, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said Wednesday the official toll was 351 dead and 395 injured.

The report said the committee based its conclusions on investigations and the testimony of witnesses.

The tragedy happened when tens of thousands of panicked people attended a free concert on an island in the Bassac River in Phnom Penh. As many as 2 million people are believed to have come to the capital for celebrations of a three-day holiday marking the end of the monsoon rain season.

Witnesses had criticized authorities for causing congestion by blocking a second bridge across the river despite the huge crowds that had gathered for the festival, and for a slow and confused emergency response. A huge crowd had come to celebrate the last night of the celebration.
Prime Minister Hun Sen described the stampede as the biggest tragedy since the communist Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror, which left an estimated 1.7 million people dead in the late 1970s. He declared a day of national mourning for Thursday.
The investigating committee, which included Cabinet ministers and city officials, said the panic was exacerbated by the trouble people had breathing because they were so closely packed together. It estimated 7,000-8,000 people were on the bridge, adding up to a load of 350-400 tons.
Its report said before the stampede, those present heard shouts the bridge was going to collapse, igniting the panic that also saw people jump off the sides into the water.
Thousands of Cambodians on Wednesday lit candles and made offerings to appease the souls of those who perished.
“I asked their souls to rest in peace and not to be angry with those still alive in the capital, especially my family members and relatives,” said Meng Houth, a 52-year-old woman who laid out food and burned incense and a candle in front of her home.

Date created : 2010-11-24