[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.
You people are gross. And what's sad, is that you will probably outlive all the good people in the world.
This is really scary.
The subject at hand does not pertain to the US or Canada. It's about hundreds of Cambodian citizens who died because their government, that they should be able to rely on, chose a selfish method to clear them off of the streets. Hun Sen needs to go and the King needs to stop sitting around and vacate the beach that he so frequently visits (mind you, it's named after him) and attend to the needs of his people.
@Yasmin– Culture and having beliefs allow individuals to remain individuals. Perhaps since you think that people are so"stupid" because of their beliefs you should think about changing your name to Ashley or Rachel. A little less culture, eh? Maybe you should also look into Marxism and move to a communist country too. Ridiculous.
To Leakena, 1st my deep sympathy to all Cambodians. Pls ignore YASMIN's comments. She does not know who she is anyway. She has idenity crisis. Yasmin is a Muslim name and she has no belief...go figure...she is a complete moron. Maybe she is using a Muslim name to give them a bad name. Jus let the ignorant, and racist people have their laugh now. They are just jealous that they can not control the world like they used to. They need to get along or they will not succeed in life.
Wow, you make me embarrassed to be a white man. Why don't you bigoted, cow-molesting , fat slobs go stampede each other to death? We don't need your kind here anymore.
I can't believe it that some people right here are so racist and nasty towards Cambodian People. This is a tragedy. It happened before Cambodia's all over the world. I'm in tears and you people are making fun of us. It is beyond my comprehension as a human sentient to understand these barbaric comments. Please show some respect and compassion in this world. If they are your own brothers and sisters, what will you say?. How can a person justify being racist in this world and lack of basic values of humanity?. Is it genetic? This is really crazy!!!.
Im sorry if people are making horrible comments about the incident....no one ever thinks about if it was their family or friends who died. I dont even know anyone from Cambodia but i do know that what happened was 100% avoidable. This truly is so sad and a horrible tragedy!!!
Some people just lack basic human compassion, especially once their ability to hide behind a veil of anonymity is given to them. Know that there are people who do care and respect those that are lost, and ignore the ignorance of the few.
Please know we do not all share the opinions of these idiots. My husband is Cambodian, he came to America after escaping the Khmer Rouge. I am totally appalled by what some of these people are saying. This is a tragedy beyond measure.
Yes. Some people are idiots. What happened here is a terrible tragedy and it doesn't matter where it happened.
I am sorry for this to happen and I am also sorry that some people do not have any decency.
Let's be hopeful in our own lives and do the best we can!
To The Beautiful People (The Kingdom Of Cambodia)
My fiance Shaina, spent a period of time teaching at CAS (school) in Phnom Penh- A few years ago we returned to the school where she taught to visit her friends and the beautiful children! I will treasure each moment we spent in the Kingdom of Cambodia for the rest of my life.
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...because we honor the memory of those who lost their lives in this tragic accident! 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 pray for healing as time passes and new hope as seasons change!
We are humbled and loved-
Shawn and Shaina (spokane, Wa)
This is certainly a tragedy and maybe the reason it happened was due to poor facilities and/or planning, but it is a 3rd world country people. Things like this may not occur in North America, but it's not because we are smarter. All you people comparing this to intelligence are very misguided, it has nothing to do with that, so stop complementing yourself. Scientific studies have shown that in a state of no control, uncertainty, and panic, humans will reach a state of chaos and act irrationally. This is only made worse when there are large numbers of people, as panic spreads extremely fast.
You can't even imagine being "trapped" between thousands of people pushing back and fourth and suddenly erupt into panic. Think of a concert with all the pushing and shoving, if one side pushed too hard everyone just topples over like dominos.
Thank you so much to all of you for your kindness , respect and compassion
Sometimes I'm ashamed to consider myself part of the human race, especially when you consider all the stupid ways we die. Now if you'll excuse me I have to tie this makeshift noose around my neck while I yank on myself.
Enjoy your tralier park and lice Trash!
Here's another good example of Police work, and they love to be called professional. What kind of professional is this not knowing that spaying water on people near electricity can be fatal. Oh yeah let's forget about this and let's keep calling them professionals anyway, they won't be pursued for this action. As a matter of fact they never do.
Like your comments, Dan. Thanks.
To those who were responsible or irrisponsible for this cause, may they will be judged at the end of their time.
To pileonmaster, Your morther should have aborted a baby like you. Go to hell! I will go no where, I'm living on your tax moneys right now, stupid! Cambodians don't need pity from a person like you. One day Cambodians might watch a fire bomb over your head from Iran or N.Korea. Cambodia is poor and small, But it get along with everyone around the world. In a few years Cambodia will decatch up with West soon. I feel bad that 99.99% of Americans are on my side and only a handle of uglies people like you.
Thanks Jack for your kind comments about Cambodian people. It is the government, the people are wonderful. Dan had the right point.
Iwish everyone would pray for them instead of mocking them
Look, by reading all of the negative comments on this page, I think everyone should just stop comparing other situations to this and just pray for the families out there who has to deal with this! If you think this is funny, your really disgusting because what if that was your family out there whose suffering! Get a life and leave your dumb comments to yourselves!
My thoughts and prayers go out to all of the families going through terrible loss from this tragedy. I am also so sorry for the disrespect and cruelty from so many people commenting on this story.
Damn some thing always happening in this crazy world we live-in bt prayers go out