November 22nd, 2010
03:37 PM ET

Cambodian minister: 339 dead in stampede

Military police examine the bridge where a stampede took place in Cambodia.

[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. The  festival, which 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.

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[Updated at 3:37 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.

A stampede occurred during a water festival in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

[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.

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Filed under: Cambodia
soundoff (443 Responses)
  1. ivy

    Trish and Chase, you both deserve each other!! If you do that I'd bet will create a bunch of animals just like yourselves. You rotten fools stupid SOB.

    November 22, 2010 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
  2. really?

    For those of you who laughs at such tradegy, I hope people show you the same respect when you get hit by tragedy.happy holidays and may god judge you wisely.

    November 22, 2010 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jack

    To all the ignorant people out there. Tragedy happens everywhere around the world. Today you laugh at them, tomorrow you will cry for your own lost. Some of you NOT much different from the Taliban, Hamas, Khmer Rouge, Nazi or Al-qeaida. To all Khmers around the world "United We Stand" and help one another. Show all these egocentric, arrogant, ignorant peopele here that we will survive and united again. Cambodia is cradle civilization of South-East-Asia. We survived the past night-mares and we will show the world that we will survive again.

    November 22, 2010 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • funnyevents

      yeah what he said....wait no I take that back this guys a soap box preacher. Quick someone grab his soap box while he's not looking.

      November 22, 2010 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • funnyevents

      His comment totally makes me want to get some blue face paint and a quilt. All he needed was to say was" they will never take our freedom" and he would have totally had me.

      November 22, 2010 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
  4. God

    My disasters always happen in the wrong places. I'll have to talk to Satan again to fix this. I meant for him to kill people in America, not an innocent country. Geesh, if you want something done right you have to do it yourself nowadays!

    November 22, 2010 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Conic

      I doubt very much that God thinks your comment is funny. Satan might. You have some serious thinking and self-analyzing to do.

      November 22, 2010 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
  5. molly jester

    I am so sad to read this. The people of Cambodia are lovely and have endured so much. They do not deserve any more pain. I wanted to recommend people contribute to organizations providing healthcare in Cambodia. The Children's Surgical Centre provides free medical care to children and adults. http://www.csc.org/ They are wonderful. The Lake Clinic is great. All Ears Cambodia provides ear healthcare. Friends Without A Border runs the Angkor Hospital for Children. Healthcare providers in Cambodia are stretched to the limit. They need financial support.

    November 22, 2010 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  6. really?

    Karma has a way of showing itself to those who find humor in suffering.

    November 22, 2010 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jamie

    I think it is mourning, not morning.

    November 22, 2010 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Nathaniel Cahoon

    Im the cambodian police" DERP DERP DERP Lets shoot people with water YAY!"

    November 22, 2010 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
  9. James White

    Idiocy. Pure idiocy. The people that planned the event are idiots. The police firing the water canons are idiots. And the people who formed the crowd are idiots. The few people who panicked and caused everyone else to panic are idiots. The people who crushed a human head without realizing it are idiots. And even more idiotic is the fact that this is a festival on the end of the rainy season. And this goes for the idiots who killed that guard at Walmart also.

    November 22, 2010 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
  10. truthinrock

    I love how the Cambodian authorities said that 10 people were the cause of these thousands of people stampeding. I've been to this festival and it is a madhouse. More than once while on that very bridge, shoulder to shoulder, I thought to myself, "what little provocation it would take for this to turn very ugly." We'll have to wait and hope someone other than the govt provides us with an explanation as to why the water cannons were used in the first place.

    November 22, 2010 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
  11. J Win

    a national day of "morning"? Why not mourning?

    November 22, 2010 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
  12. JOHN

    SO EVERY THING WAS FINE UNTIL THEIR GOV SPRAYED THEM WITH THE WATER CANNONS.

    November 22, 2010 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
  13. svscnn

    Copy-cats. Just trying to "one-up" India & Germany. Try and be a little bit more original next time Cambodia. Jeesh.

    November 22, 2010 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
  14. daniel na

    this is sad and they shouldnt have done that

    November 22, 2010 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Nomoe

    Damn those CPP and cronies! Them and their stupidity are what causing this. People in Cambodia should NOT take this lightly and Khmer every where should see to it that those responsible must be punished. In short, someone must be held accountable for this – even if we have to go after the whole CPP party then so be it~!

    Those poor souls. RIP! 🙁

    November 22, 2010 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
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