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In Siem Reap tragedy’s wake, villagers want wells out

After seven people died from lack of oxygen at the bottom of a 5-metre-deep well in a Siem Reap village on Saturday, residents are planning to destroy their own wells to prevent a repeat of the tragedy.

Tem E, chief of Romchek commune in Banteay Srey district, said yesterday that those living in the commune are terrified such a freak accident could happen again.

“They’ve requested that we use excavators to dig out the pipes and fill the holes in order to avoid any danger for others,” he said. “They are scared after many people died in the well.”

Tem E said there are nearly 30 such wells in Romchek commune but only about 10 are in use, with many people preferring a newer pump-operated model.

“We have not yet set the date for destroying the wells, because they [family members of the victims] are busy with the funeral. I will gather with them after and discuss what we are going to do and how to destroy the wells,” Tem E said.

He added that no one has sued or filed a complaint against the well’s owner, as the deaths were unintentional.

It all started on Saturday morning, when the father of a poor family dropped a cigarette lighter and the equivalent of $0.75 down the concrete shaft.

When three of his children heard about the money, they went to retrieve it. One after another went down and didn’t come back up. Four neighbours jumped in to help and met the same fate. The bodies were pulled up later by rope.

Authorities believe low oxygen levels caused the victims to asphyxiate. Seven people died, including four children.

Several commune residents interviewed yesterday were in agreement about what to do.

Puy Kung, 48, the owner of a well in Romchek commune’s Sala Kravan village and a relative of three of the dead children, said yesterday that she will destroy the well on her property.

“The three children who died in the well are my nieces and nephew. I feel horrible for them. I’m scared it will happen to my kids or other people one day, so I will destroy [the well] after I observe my nieces’ and nephew’s funeral,” Kung said.

Another villager, Yok Herl, 64, said he will destroy his 10-year-old well for the same reason.

“My grandchildren and the kids in the villagers often play around the well and they look into the well, but I never thought it would be dangerous for them,” he added.

Both Herl and Kung said they had not encountered any safety problems before, but they wanted to be cautious.

Muy Norn, acting Banteay Srey district police chief, said yesterday that the incident was not without precedent.

“The authorities do not prohibit them to destroy their own property, but we often tell them to be careful, because this is the second dangerous time for the villagers in this district,” he said. “There was a person who died in a well a few years ago.”

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