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Blaze victims rebuild shattered lives

Blaze victims rebuild shattered lives

P hnom Penh's Deum Chahn village has become a hive of activity as thousands of

families rally together to rebuild their homes in the wake of a fire that razed

628 wooden houses on the banks of the Tonle Sap.

For many of the 1,335

Khmer and Vietnamese families left homeless after the fire gutted the shanty

town near the Ho Chi Minh bridge, a piece of plastic and some charred wooden

boards are their only possessions.

Soun Son, 58, who had a market stall

selling clothes, started weeping as she remembered the tragedy which killed

three adults, two children and wounded five.

"I lost everything," said

Son, who has had to sleep with her four children on wooden benches on top of the

rubble where her house used to be. I will have to borrow money to start up all

over again."

Like Son, Sok Samoen, 52, also lost everything he owned.

Samoen, a driver for a transport company, who will also have to borrow money to

rebuild his home, said he spotted smoke from the fire while driving his taxi on

the other side of the city.

"When I got back, everything had burned. The

children rescued as much as they could. I have lost my house, furniture,

clothes, everything."

Another victim, Chea Chey, 35, said she and her

family are sleeping in the ruins of their home. While her three children play

among the charred remains of their house, Chey cuts vegetables for a meal on a

makeshift surface.

While the sounds of hammers, saws and drills ring out

across the area as villagers build wooden structures, erect scaffolding and

string up blue plastic sheets for cover, investigations into the cause of the

fire continue.

Leng Huor, 39, said the fire started in the house of

noodle-maker, Ket Vanny, 38, who has not been seen since the fire. "He was

burning incense sticks I think," said Leng Huor. "The children may have knocked

them over."

Even women are making a contribution to rebuilding Deum

Chahn. Many, carrying vegetables and fruit from the nearby Chbar Ampor market to

cook over their charcoal stoves.

Children play among bricks and burned

refuse. Broken glass has been swept into piles, out of harm's way.

The

loss in financial terms has not yet been assessed.

King Norodom Sihanouk

has urged humanitarian organizations, the government and authorities to provide

aid to the victims, government news agency AKP reported.

The Cambodian

Red Cross has supplied 50 kilograms of rice to each family and 15 local NGOs

from the Urban Sector Group visited the site the day after the fire to survey

affected families.

A total of $20,000 has been donated or pledged and

some of the money has been used already to buy plastic sheeting which has been

distributed through the area.

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