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Stampede death toll rises

Stampede death toll rises

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There were too many people coming from different directions and that made chaos. People weren’t able to breathe.

The death toll from Monday night’s stampede on Diamond Island’s north bridge continued to rise yesterday, with officials confirming more than 350 people were killed and a similar number injured in the tragedy.

Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng, a member of the commission coordinating the response to the stampede, said yesterday that 351 people died and 395 were injured. “That is the figure we have at this time,” he said.

Unconfirmed reports from police sources yesterday put the death toll at as many as 378 and 755 injured in the disaster, which Prime Minister Hun Sen compared to the ravages of the Khmer Rouge regime.

“With this miserable event, I would like to share my condolences with my compatriots and the family members of the victims,” he said in a televised address yesterday.

The premier declared tomorrow a national day of public mourning in honour of the victims.

Hospital officials across Phnom Penh have reported that no foreigners were among the dead or injured.

The stampede began about 10pm on Monday, when an exuberant festival crowd – crossing the bridge to reach concerts, food stalls and ice sculptures on the island – turned to a desperate crush of human bodies.

It is unclear what caused the stampede, though government officials said it resulted when tightly packed crowds on the bridge began to panic after rumours spread the bridge was unstable.

“It was too crowded and they had nowhere to run,” Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said.
Many of the deaths were caused by suffocation and internal injuries, he said, adding that about two-thirds of the fatalities were women.

Yesterday, about 400 saffron-clad Buddhist monks and some 600 civilians converged on the bridge to pray for the souls of those killed in the incident.

At the scene, hundreds of brightly coloured sunglasses, shoes and clothing remained scattered across the four-metre-wide bridge – a grisly reminder of the past night’s events. Dozens of police prevented onlookers from reaching the bridge, saying they were still looking for the bodies of those who may have perished after jumping into the shallow water below.

“At the moment, we are searching for the reason that caused the people in the crowd to stampede,” said Prum Sokha, head of the commission investigating the incident.

“We are collecting all the information and we need time to work on the issue.” He said that so far nobody was suspected of wrongdoing.
Khieu Kanharith said the government had called on survivors and witnesses to come forward to aid in the inquiry.

The government will contribute five million riels (US$1,250) to the family of each victim, amid criticism of its planning and response to the crisis.

Officials estimate more than 2 million people converged on Phnom Penh for the annual Water Festival, one of the largest events on the Cambodian calendar. The last time the festival was marred by tragedy was in 2007, when five Singaporeans were killed after their dragon boat capsized.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP

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