Deputy Prime Minister Men Sam An (C) cuts the inauguration ribbon of the new bridge to Koh Pich yesterday. Photograph: Meng Kimlong/Phnom Penh Post
Koh Pich’s shiny, new “twin dragon” bridge, built within meters of its predecessor, where 353 people died during a panicked crush during the 2010 Water Festival, was officially unveiled yesterday.
Officials touted the new bridge’s safety and convenience, but when it came to discussing what substantive measures are being taken to prevent a repeat of the crowd control issues that led to the 2010 tragedy, few answers were forthcoming.
With the festival just over two months away, Cambodia’s Deputy Prime Minister Mem Sam An said the new bridge, which was finished in October last year, would “make the people of Phnom Penh happy”.
“This bridge will make it easy for our people to travel to visit Koh Pich during the Water Festival,” she said of the $2 million bridge funded by the island’s developer, Ocean Cambodian Investment Company.
The new bridge was erected not far from where the original – demolished late last year – once stood. The site remains a sad reminder for many of the November 22, 2010, tragedy, when thousands panicked on the tightly packed bridge.
Last year’s festival was cancelled, officials said at the time, due to widespread flooding that swept over the country.
When asked if authorities were prepared for this year’s celebration, Mann Chheoun, former City Hall deputy governor, said only that the new bridge enhanced safety.
“[Visitors] should not be scared to have something bad happen to them; this bridge was built in good condition.”
City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said authorities were in preparation mode but could not answer whether other measures had been put in place, such as boosted security and police, emergency training or an increase in emergency equipment.
“[The Water Festival] will not be cancelled this year, and the people will come, because they have no reason to be scared of the ceremony,” he said
Touch Naruth, Phnom Penh municipal police chief, could not be reached, while deputy police chief Hy Prou declined to talk about police preparation.
A 10-day investigation was undertaken by a team including OCIC officials and the government after the disaster. Prime Minister Hun Sen later announced it was an “accidental tragedy” no one would be held accountable for.
Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann said yesterday his party was worried procedures would not be in place to prevent another disaster.
“We have serious doubts they have prepared sufficiently…They need to look at proper examples of event management and planning. It seems like nothing is different [to the preparation] of 2010,” he said.
“People should have been punished for the tragic events, someone should have been responsible for the deaths.”