Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Cambodia launches investigation into stampede that left 378 dead

A crowd of Cambodians are pushed onto a bridge on the last day of celebrations of a water festival in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
In this Nov. 23, 2010 photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, Cambodian police officials examine the bridge where a stampede took place in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Thousands of people stampeded during a festival in the Cambodian capital Monday night, leaving more than 330 dead and hundreds injured in what the prime minister called the country's biggest tragedy since the 1970s reign of terror by the Khmer Rouge. (AP Photo/Xinhua, Lei Baisong) ** NO SALES **
Police officers and a fellow visitor assist an injured Cambodian after a stampede onto a bridge at an accident site during the last day of celebrations of the water festival in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Monday, Nov. 22, 2010. Thousands of people celebrating a water festival on a small island in a Cambodian river stampeded Monday evening, killing many people, a hospital official said. Hundreds more were hurt as the crowd panicked and pushed over the bridge to the mainland. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

The authorities in Cambodia have launched an investigation into the stampede that left at least 378 people dead and hundreds more injured when festival revellers were trapped for hours in a deadly crush on a bridge.

As the Prime Minister, Hun Sen, apologised to the Cambodian people for Monday's tragedy, survivors described how they became caught in huge crowds of the dead and living. Police sprayed people with water to allow them to drink as they struggled to disentangle themselves from the crowds. Tomorrow has been declared a day of national mourning.

Moeurn Piseth Sathya (15), one of scores of people being treated at Phnom Penh's Preah Ket Mealea Hospital, said: “I felt that I would die because I couldn't breathe at all. Nobody could breathe.”

The crush happened on the narrow bridge that connects Phnom Penh to the man-made Diamond Island, also known as Koh Pich — a commercial park where thousands of people were celebrating the final day of water festival.

Brightly coloured clothes and shoes remained scattered across the bridge yesterday, while teams continued to search the Bassac River for bodies. Cambodian state television showed gruesome footage of Monday evening's stampede, with piles of convulsing, twisting bodies of people struggling to pull themselves free.

Some reports suggested people may have died after being electrocuted, as they jumped into the river to escape from the crush on the bridge and then tried to pull themselves out of the water with electric cables. But a government spokesman, Phay Siphan, denied this: “The cause was panic, not electrocution,” he told reporters.

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