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River tragedy claims 3 lives

A house clings to the edge of a ledge in Kandal province’s Preah Prasap commune
A house clings to the edge of a ledge in Kandal province’s Preah Prasap commune yesterday after the riverbank gave way. Heng Chivoan

River tragedy claims 3 lives

A family is mourning two small children and a woman presumed dead after a riverbank collapsed on Tuesday night, sending three houses plunging into the Mekong River in Kandal province.

Distraught mother Horn Sreypov, 18, said she had been breastfeeding her 18-month-old son, Luy Raksmey, in their house in Khsach Kandal’s Preah Prasap commune just minutes before the collapse.

“I then fell asleep, but was soon awoken by a loud sound and my baby crying,” she said. “My house was already in the water. I tried to rush my son out, but a plank fell onto my forearm and my son slid from my arms.” In the moments that followed, Sreypov desperately searched for her son in the darkness, to no avail, and would likely have drowned herself if not for the help of a family member who dragged her out of the water to safety.

Meok Som Oul, 39 – Raksmey’s grandmother – and her son Soth Sonang, three, are also missing, presumed dead.

Soa Soth, 39, who said the darkness and sheer strength of the river’s current had prevented him from saving his wife, son and grandson, said he too had awoken to find his house underwater.

“When I woke up, my house was already in the river,” he said. “I did my best to break the roof and swim out to help.”

With the assistance of other villagers, Soth said, he was able to save other family members, including those who lived in the other two houses.

A survivor, Toun Seyha, 18, was in hospital yesterday after being struck by a tree that fell as his house collapsed into the water.

“I managed to swim out and grab a floating log,” he said.

Villagers, including fishermen, spent several hours yesterday searching for the three victims.

“They have been covered by this landslide,” said a diver searching with the aid of an oxygen tank.

Tem Kemsoeun, 32, whose house remains standing right next to the collapsed bank, said that on Monday villagers had noticed cracks opening in the ground. No one, however, had thought anything of it.

“A few years ago, sand was pumped from this area, but the riverbank had never collapsed,” Kemsoeun said. “We have worried about sand pumping in the past here, though, because it can cause the current to crash into the areas of the riverbank.”

Un Yong, district police chief, told the Post yesterday that the villagers had lived on a fragile part of the riverbank and denied that sand pumping was occurring.

“The authorities often tell villagers whose houses are built on the riverbank to be cautious or to simply move out in order to avoid danger.”

Some of the residents who are living in the vicinity of the riverbank collapse were scared to return home yesterday for fear of further incidents.

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