Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Cambodia: 339 Killed in Stampede at Cambodian Festival

More than 300 people have been reported killed in a stampede at a major festival in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said early Tuesday the death toll stood at 339, but authorities expect it to continue to rise.

Most of the victims were crushed or drowned when a crowd on an island in the Tonle Sap river panicked and rushed to cross a bridge.

The prime minister said more than 300 people were injured in the chaos, which he described as the “biggest tragedy” to strike the country since the communist Khmer Rouge ruled in a reign of terror in the 1970s. He ordered an investigation into the incident and declared Thursday a national day of mourning for the victims.

Hours after the stampede, ambulances continued to rush the injured away from the scene while rescuers searched the river for bodies.

A witness told VOA that in the chaos people were stepping on top of each other and some were forced to jump off the bridge into the river to avoid being trampled.

It remains unclear what caused the crowd to rush from the island where thousands had gathered to watch a traditional boat race.

The city’s main hospital was filled to capacity with bodies and patients, some of whom had to be treated in the hallways.

Most of the victims were young people in their teens and twenties, some of the estimated 2 million who had flocked to Phnom Penh to mark the end of the rainy season at the annual water festival.

Some information in this story was provided by AP.