SIX men died over the weekend in Kampong Cham province after inhaling toxic fumes while trying to clean a well, officials said Monday.
The incident occurred on Saturday, after the men climbed more than 10 metres down into a century-old well in what was supposed to have been a routine operation to scrape away a buildup of mud.
Sok Phorn, chief of Trea village, said the men died after inhaling noxious fumes from the engine of a water pump.
“The six men died of poisoning from the smog of the engine, because they put the water pump engine into the well,” Sok Phorn said.
A witness said the men died one after another. At first, one man climbed in to operate the pump. When he didn’t reappear after more than 10 minutes, a second man descended into the well, only to be overcome by the fumes.
Six men were missing before a seventh, 45-year-old Khem Chak, prepared to climb in as well. But Khem Chak said he stopped when the sixth man, still struggling with the fumes, called out for help.
“The villagers and I threw the rope into the well to save him, but his hand slipped from the rope when we pulled him halfway out of the well,” he said.
The six men have been identified as Sam Mong, 45, Seng Sroeun, 38, Mong Mang, 21, Huong Heng, 35, Bun Bou, 51, and Thul Thoeun, 32.
The chief of the commune where the deaths occurred said authorities are now deciding what to do with the well.
“We will consider burying the well, or banning people from using it temporarily,” Men Sarun said.
In the meantime, Sok Phorn, the village chief, said the community of 100 families is making funeral preparations.
“The families have suffered so much,” he said.