[Updated at 4:25 p.m.] Steve Finch, a Phnom Penh Post reporter, told CNN that the stampede at the water festival in Phnom Penh began around 10 p.m. Monday (10 a.m. ET), when police began firing a water cannon onto a bridge to an island in the center of a river.
The bridge was packed with people, and police fired the water cannon in an effort to get them to move, he said.
"That just caused complete and utter panic," he told CNN in a telephone interview. He said a number of people lost consciousness and fell into the water; some may have died by electric shock, he said.
Watch: "It was chaos," reporter says
Finch cited witnesses as saying that the bridge was festooned with electric lights, which may have played a role in the deaths.
The government denied anyone died by electric shock.
But a doctor who declined to be identified publicly said the main cause of death was suffocation and electric shock. Police were among the dead, he said.
While Finch said the incident apparently coincided with the firing of the water cannon, a witness, Ouk Sokhhoeun, 21, told the Phnom Penh Post that the stampede began first.
In addition to the 339 people who have been confirmed dead, 329 people were injured, Prime Minister Hun Sen said, according to The Phnom Penh Post.
The incident happened on the final day of the three-day festival, according to The Phnom Peng Post. TheÂ festival, whichÂ attracts people from all over Cambodia, is held annually to commemorate a victory by the Cambodian naval forces during the 12th century reign of King Jayavarman VII, according to the Tourism Cambodia website.
[Updated at 3:37Â p.m.] Steve Finch, a Phnom Penh Post reporter, told CNN there were reports from witnesses of people electrocuted as police fired water cannons at people on the bridge to hurry them along causing the stampede.
According to a Radio Australia report, a big crowd watching the annual water festival panicked when a number of people were apparently electrocuted on the bridge.
Cambodian authorities say hundreds of people were either crushed in the resulting stampede or drowned when they fell or jumped into the river.
Prime Minister Hun Sen has given several post-midnight live broadcasts to update the country. In one, according to the Associated Press, he called the stampede the "biggest tragedy" in Cambodia since the Khmer Rouge reign of terror in the 1970s.
He also ordered all government ministries to fly the flag at half-staff and said there would be a national day of morning.
[Updated at 3:05 p.m.] Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said on state-run TV he was unsure yet as to what caused the stampede.
"This needs to be investigated more," Hun Sen said, according to an AFP report.
Hun Sen said a committee would be set up to examine the incident.
The Associated Press, Reuters and AFP reported that witnesses said 10 people had either collapsed or become unconscious during the festival, triggering the panic.
That led, they reported, to people rushing towards a bridge headed toward Diamond Island. That's when things got worse, a witness told AFP.
"We were crossing the bridge to Diamond Island when people started pushing from the other side. There was lots of screaming and panic," 23-year-old Kruon Hay told AFP. "People started running and were falling over each other. I fell too. I only survived because other people pulled me up. Many people jumped in the water."
Sok Sambath, governor of the capital's Daun Penh district, told AFP "this is the biggest tragedy we have ever seen."
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[Updated at 2:41 p.m.] Khieu Kanharith, the Cambodian Minister of Information, has said the death toll from the stampede has now reached 339.
The three-day festival attracts people from all over Cambodia - and around the world - to the Royal palace. The festival is held annually to commemorate a victory by the Cambodian naval forces during the 12th century reign of King Jayvarman VII, according to the Tourism Cambodia website.
The festival is also used to pray for a good rice harvest, sufficient rain and to celebrate the full moon, the site says. The festival dates back to before the 7th century.
At night, the boats on the river are illuminated with neon lights and there is a fireworks display.
[Updated at 2:36 p.m.] Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Monday on state-run Bayon Television that more than 200 people have died in the water festival stampede.
Officers with the Prime Ministers Bodyguard Unit stood outside a local hospital trying to help those who brought injured and control the scene of chaos outside.
Hundreds of shoes, clothing and personal items still littered the streets, the bridge and the underlying water near where the festival took place. The road on the bridge was so covered you could barely see the surface.
[Updated at 2:26 p.m.] Ambulances appeared to be making runs back and forth between the scene of the stampede and the hospital - dropping off the injured and then speeding away again, video on state-run Bayon Television showed.
Doctors stood outside a hospital, trying to direct traffic, between ambulances and vehicles of regular citizens bringing in the injured.
Friends and family clutched some the injured already in the hospital while others raced from the streets clutching the injured in the arms.
[Updated at 2:23 p.m.] Video from state-run Bayon Television in Cambodia showed panic in the streets and outside local hospitals.
Dozens of injured people appeared to be laying on what appeared to be the waiting room floor of a hospital with IV lines hooked up to them that were strung across benches.
[Updated at 2:04 p.m.] Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Monday on state-run Bayon Television that 180 people have died in the water festival stampede.
"With this miserable event, I would like to share my condolences with my compatriots and the family members of the victims," he said, according to AFP.
More than 4 million people were attending the Water Festival when the stampede occurred, said Visalsok Nou, a Cambodian Embassy official in Washington.
[Posted at 1:55 p.m.] More than 100 people were killed Monday in a stampede that occurred during a festival near Cambodia's royal palace in Phnom Penh, a Cambodian Embassy official in Washington said.
This story is developing. We'll bring you the latest information as soon as we get it.
it's an unfortunate tragedy.
Horrifically tragic, I can't imagine those poor people's suffering. If we can learn anything, in an effort to save lives in the future, imagine for a moment that the world was totally free of religious beliefs. I'll be we'd save 339 lives per minute, or some such ridiculously huge number, as we wouldn't killing each other on purpose or on accident. JIt's just a thought, in memorandum of those that have perished for their beliefs, and in hoping for a better future for the human race.
So I was sitting in my cubicle today, and I realized, ever since I started working, every single day of my life has been worse than the day before it. So that means that every single day that you see me, that's on the worst day of my life.
In response to your comment may I ask why you think by getting rid of religious beliefs we would save more lives per minute?
To Our Beautiful Friends (in The Kingdom of Cambodia)
My fiance Shaina, spent a period of time teaching in Phnom Penh- About three years ago we returned to visit her friends and the beautiful children she taught! I will not forget a moment we spent in the Kingdom of Cambodia...as long as I live.
Try as we may...we may never know if our beloved friends are among those who lost their lives. It does not matter if we knew them or not- we honor the memory of those who lost their lives in this tragedy! We cry along with the families who lost their precious family members! We are of the human race...fellow runners in this race of life. We are defined by OUR WEALTH OF FRIENDS...THOSE WHO HONOR US BY THEIR FRIENDSHIP AND LOVE!
We are praying for healing as time passes and new hope as the seasons change!
We are humbled and loved by our dear friends in Cambodia
Shawn and Shaina (spokane, Wa)
and I'm sure your utter lack of feeling along with the hatred inside of you will stay about the same there, Chase.
Chase: really? i dont think so man
Are there a lot of these kinds of accidents?
Wow, this sounds horrible...
So are they wilderbeasts or human beings. thats disgusting.
Get it right Stooge.
/nyuk nyuk nyuk
Well, the government didn't protect its citizens so all of the families of loved one should sue the government and they will get millions each. And the LAwyer hired to distribute the money will get paid $35,000,000 in one year and payout $35000.
And in the end $180 people died but 2 million got hurt or tramatized so they will all get money.......Oh sorry thats only if it happens in the UNITED STATES.
In Cambodia they will get a pine box
Sucks to be Thai then, doesn't it?
If you see someone crushing others to get out of a "stampede", instead of staying calm and dispersing in an orderly fashion, put them in a choke hold till they pass out.
So far it is confirmed that 278 causalties found.
I have to wonder at what point did all those crushing others stop and think, "Maybe we are doing this wrong"?
Terrible event. Sad this has happened. Even more sad someone would find humor in this.
This isn't so bad, huh? Makin' bucks, gettin' exercise, workin' outside.
Thank you for having a voice of compassion and dignity that is missing from most of the comments. I've been to music concerts (right here in the U.S.) where I was nearly crushed to death; uncontrolled crowds anywhere present this danger but I think we have a pretty good handle on crowd control here -probably the only good by-product of our litigious society. My daughter-in-law is Cambodian and my heart breaks for the tragedy in her homeland.
Notice that animals did not take part in this stampede – they were the smart ones. They might have gotten hurt.
The thing is, Bob, it's not that I'm lazy, it's that I just don't care.
@ Bob S.... If you don't care, then shut-up. Please.
To Joe Smoe and Chase, Both of you need to stop being so arrogant. We don't need people like you to feel sad or insult us. There are ten-of-thousands of Cambodian descend around the world. they'll help their peopel. Oh don't forget P.R.China will assist them. No worry about Cambodia, just keep eyes on Al-qaeida and Hamas.
Ignorant people. Read Your Comments. Nothing but ignorance. No wonder nobody likes our country nor our people.
What if – and believe me this is a hypothetical – but what if you were offered some kind of a stock option equity sharing program. Would that do anything for you?
@ Denise, thank you. The comments posted here are terrible.
Denise speaks the truth. This is why our country is failing, and why people around the world are losing respect for the U.S.
I don't spend my time worrying about what the rest of the world thinks of us
last XBOX on the shelf?
@Michael: You're an idiot.
Tyler – Get a life, troll elsewhere.
I'm with a few of the above – honestly, while anyone dying is tragic, this is idiotic behavior at best. Whether its hundreds of people trying to jam through a Walmart door on Black Friday, or a "Water festival", this has done nothing but help clean out the gene pool. Seriously, stay home and watch it on TV?
Uh, don't worry about him. He's cool.
LOOKS LIKE A TYPICAL WAL-MART STAMPEDE ON BLACK FRIDAY !!!!
Really? Never heard of more than 300 people dying at Walmart.