Accessibility links

Cambodia Remembers Victims of Bridge Stampede That Killed Hundreds

  • Robert Carmichael

The bridge where the crush happened, cleared of shoes, clothing and water bottles, stands ready for Thursday morning's ceremony to pray for those who died

Thousands have gathered in Cambodia to pray for those who died earlier this week when a festival crowd was trapped on a bridge at the end of the annual Water Festival.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen began the memorial service at the Diamond Island bridge in Phnom Penh early Thursday.

He was followed by dozens of lawmakers and politicians, as well as hundreds of ordinary Cambodians and expatriates.

Flags were at half-staff across the capital as people placed wreaths and flowers, and lit incense sticks at the makeshift memorial for the 347 people who died on the bridge late Monday.

The government says 395 were injured.

Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema says the bridge was carrying too many people - as many as 8,000 according to investigators.

"You can see the bridge is not for carrying thousands and thousands of people. And that's why this happened, this disaster - it is the very worst. And on behalf, on my position as the governor of Phnom Penh I am very sorry to our people and (their) families," said Kep Chuktema.

The government says most suffocated or died from internal bleeding in the panic. The investigators' interim report says the stampede was sparked when the bridge started to sway.

While people remembered the dead, scores of survivors lay on rattan mats in the corridors of Calmette Hospital on the other side of Phnom Penh.

Kuth Vy is in his early 20s and works in a garment factory. He was with four female colleagues that evening - they were trying to get on to the island, which is a popular entertainment center.

But by the time they reached the middle of the 100-meter-long bridge, so many people were coming from the other side that they became stuck.

He says he has no idea what happened to his friends. The five of them had clasped hands as they crossed to try to stay together. But it was too crowded and they were separated.

Kuth Vy fainted, and woke up in hospital.

It was a similar tale from another garment worker, 17-year-old Hy Sophan, who was attending her first Water Festival.

She says she was trying to leave the island, but got stuck halfway across the bridge. She began to faint, but people helped her back.

Hy Sophan was so desperate that she leaped into the river even though she cannot swim. Many drowned, but she was lucky - others saved her.

Some people have called for the bridge to be demolished. Others have sworn never to go back to Diamond Island, since the spirits of the dead now roam there.

For its part, the government says it will build a memorial at the bridge.

Governor Kep Chuktema says the tragedy is a terrible lesson for the city. Next year, he promises, the authorities will be much better prepared.