The tornado - or dragon - at Chaktomuk on August 29.
Was it a dragon playing with water - niek leng teuk -or was it a tornado? Whatever,
people near the Phnom Penh riverside about 1pm on August 29 were treated to the rare
spectacle of a waterspout at the confluence of the four rivers, Chaktomuk, near the
Royal Palace. Amateur photographers were particularly fortunate: photos of the phenomenon
were eagerly snapped up both by those who saw it and those who didn't.
The waterspout formed at 12:45pm and lasted about 30 minutes at the conjunction of
the Mekong and Bassac rivers, said fisherman Youv, 41, who was fishing in his boat
close to where the waterspout touched the river. He said, "a dragon sucked the
water," yet caused no damage to any of the several fishing boats nearby.
"It's about 20 years since I arrived in Cambodia," Youv said. "I had
never seen the dragon sucking water in Cambodia before - this was the first time.
But in Vietnam, I saw it every year."
Srey Touch, 25, from Kampong Speu province, watched the phenomenon from beginning
to end at Preah Ang Dangul in front of the Royal Palace. She said she believed a
hundred percent that it was a dragon playing with water.
"Before I just heard from my grandmother that there used to be a dragon playing
with water once in her generation; now I have seen it with my own eyes."
Srey Mom, 28, who watched the phenomenon with Srey Touch, was also convinced it was
a dragon playing with the water.
Yim Seng, 40, said he was sitting on the bench along the riverside in front of the
Royal Palace, facing the palace, when he heard a sound like someone drilling in the
middle of the river. He ignored it, but noticed a lot of people coming to look out
on to the river. Then he turned and saw a long loaf of water flying into to the sky.
Seng said he did not know for sure whether it was a dragon playing in the water as
other people said because he had never seen anything like it before.
But Has Soeun, 43, a Buddhist teacher at Preah Ang Dangul, was more down to earth.
He said the phenomenon happened a lot in Cambodia, particularly in his province,
"It is a serious storm," he said. "The place where it happens can
be seriously damaged.
"Elders in my province always advise their children to be careful and run as
far as possible from the place where they see a small black cloud falling to the
ground or water, because there will be a big storm for 10 to 30 meters surrounding
"It is confusing and dangerous that the young generation now say it is a 'dragon
playing with water' and just happily stand and watch the storm," Soeun said.
Seth Vannareth, director of the meteorology department at the Ministry of Water Resources
and Meteorology, said the phenomenon was a tornado and agreed with Soeun that people
should not stand and watch it.
"Because we do not know for sure in what direction it's going to go," she
said. "If it goes toward the people who are watching it, they will not be able
to escape. Please find a strong place to shelter."
Vannareth said the tornado was caused by a low-pressure system and was normally about
150 meters wide at its base. Anything within that area was likely to be destroyed
-houses on dry land, for instance; and if it occurred on water, the water would be
sucked up into the air and any boat in the way might fly around or be sunk.
Vannareth said tornadoes happen every year in Cambodia. In 1998, a tornado near the
Monivong Bridge damaged many houses along the Bassac River. And early this year,
a tornado in Kampong Som destroyed several houses.
She said the meteorology department did not have the means to issue tornado warnings.
The tornado caused a bout of dragon fever in Phnom Penh, lining the pockets of several
photographers. Just hours after the incident, photographer Chan Ratha, 47, said he
had already sold about 30 photos of the tornado for between 1,000 and 1,500 riel.
"It was a miracle that rarely happens, like the sky drained water from the river,"
Ratha said. "I had never seen this even once in my life. So I took the picture
to keep as evidence to tell the next generation."