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Despite tragedy, fireworks to go on

People stand yesterday at the site of Wednesday evening’s firework explosion in the capital’s Chroy Changvar district
People stand yesterday at the site of Wednesday evening’s firework explosion in the capital’s Chroy Changvar district. The explosion killed one person and injured seven others. Eli Meixler

Despite tragedy, fireworks to go on

Fireworks displays planned for next week’s Water Festival and November 9’s Independence Day celebrations will take place as scheduled, despite a mishap that killed a bystander during royal celebrations on Wednesday, an official said yesterday.

University student Na Kry Daro, 22, from Kandal province, was killed when fireworks set up by soldiers misfired during celebrations to mark the 10th anniversary of King Sihamoni’s coronation.

But Ith Sarath, deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, said Kry Daro’s death had been a freak accident and safety would not be an issue when the festival begins on Wednesday.

“We still have hundreds of fireworks remaining and they are the same brand,” he said. “We have to use them, because we have checked them for [quality]. This case was just an accident. Thailand and other countries have explosions like this too.”

More than 1 million people are predicted to take to the capital’s streets for the first Water Festival since the 2010 bridge stampede that claimed the lives of 353 people.

Chhin Ketana, secretary general of the National Committee for Organizing National and International Festivals, said organisers had not even discussed the issue of fireworks safety yesterday in the wake of Wednesday’s tragedy.

“Right now, we have had no time to discuss this problem, because we are busy meeting with a Thai delegation,” he said, referring to Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s visit. “But we will talk with government ministries in the coming days.”

Police and city officials said a canister that had been dug into the ground outside the under-construction Sokha Hotel in Chroy Changva district, across the water from the Royal Palace, exploded before shooting off in the wrong direction on Wednesday.

Kry Daro, who had been standing behind a barrier some 50 metres from the launching spot, died at the scene. Seven others were injured.

Yu Hably, a 15-year-old fisherman whose family lives behind the hotel, said he was about 100 metres from the fireworks canister when it exploded, but in the opposite direction from where Kry Daro stood. “The last of the canisters to open had a problem. Part of it flew in my direction. First it hit an old man, then ricocheted onto me,” he said. Debris also hit a fourth-storey window of the hotel, cracking it.

Discarded packaging at the scene yesterday showed that the fireworks were made in China. Words printed on the side said they had passed “vigorous” safety tests and were designed strictly for professional use.

As Hably lay in pain in his houseboat yesterday, nursing a leg injury that doctors estimate will take a month to heal, his father, Ee Yu, said authorities had offered them $500 compensation.

While he welcomed their assistance, he had a message. “This accident is a lesson for the organisers of the Water Festival. They need to find a safe area for the fireworks canisters, far away from people. During the festival, one million people will be here. If they don’t take care, more people will die like this.”

Other villagers shared his concerns. One woman who declined to give her name said that even though her village was across the water from the Royal Palace, where many more people will congregate, “you cannot move here during Water Festival either”.

“I’m afraid there will be more problems,” she said.

Deputy Phnom Penh Governor Chreang Sophan said that one man, 54, and a boy were recovering in separate hospitals yesterday.

Prime Minister Hun Sen and Phnom Penh Governor Pa Socheatvong had donated $500 to them and $250 to those recovering at home, Sophan said. The family of Kry Daro will also be paid compensation, though Sophan did not say how much.

According to Yoeun Chantha, deputy chief of police in Chroy Changvar, the festival committee has also donated $500 to each person injured.

Oum Daravuth, an adviser to the secretariat of Queen Mother Norodom Monineath, did not know whether the King intended to make similar offerings to the family of Kry Daro.

“It’s up to the Ministry of Royal Palace to handle funds [in these cases],” Daravuth said. “And even though it’s the King’s event, it’s the festival organising committee managing it.”

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