Cambodia Stampede Kills 375 and Leaves Government Seeking Answers

By Julie Masis; Stephen Kurczy | The Christian Science Monitor, November 23, 2010 | Go to article overview

Cambodia Stampede Kills 375 and Leaves Government Seeking Answers


Julie Masis; Stephen Kurczy, The Christian Science Monitor


'We need to draw lessons from it,' says the government spokesman. A special investigative committee has been tasked with finding the cause of the deadly Cambodia stampede.

A day after a Cambodia stampede killed at least 375 people and injured more than 750, a pall fell over the capital as a national day of mourning shuttered schools and businesses and a difficult task began for the government.

A special investigative committee is seeking to determine what caused the tragedy and what can be done to prevent it from reoccurring.

"We set up an investigative committee to shed a light on this. We need to draw lessons from it," says Cambodia's Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith.

Whatever the committee finds, it seemed immediately apparent that Phnom Penh was unprepared to handle a massive influx of tourists that nearly tripled the city's population to 6 million and clogged roads and bridges during the annual Water Festival. The Tourism Ministry had promoted the festival nationally and internationally with travel packages, although it was unclear if the government increased basic safety measures such as crowd control ahead of the event.

Security focused on water, not land

Tragedy has struck during the festival in past years and safety precautions this year appeared to focus on water activities. One civilian drowned this year when wading into the Bassac River, one rower died in 2009, and five Singaporean rowers drowned in 2008 when their boat capsized.

"We concentrated our security on the water," says Mr. Khieu. "From the beginning, [Prime Minister] Hun Sen made recommendations to check all the possible risks. Everybody was looking on the security on the water, and then this happened."

Some 10,000 people crammed late Tuesday night onto a newly built bridge - 10 times its capacity, says Khieu - that crosses from the capital over the Bassac River to a man-made entertainment island where a festival was being held to conclude the annual Water Festival.

The bridge clogged in the late evening, eyewitnesses and victims told the Monitor, with a stampede beginning around 11 p.m. The death toll rose hourly, with the Associated Press reporting 378 dead late Tuesday, and officials expecting the toll to continue to rise.

The festival marks the end of the rainy season and a time of rest from work in the rice fields, allowing millions of Cambodians to visit the capital and watch the massive boat races that pass in front of the Royal Palace. …

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