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.


[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."

iReport: Are you there? Send photos, videos, descriptions

[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. Jack

    To Yasmin, oh Yasmin is a Muslim name. You are Muslim...why are using this name...allah will not forgive you. You will be burned.

    November 22, 2010 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
  2. han

    This story sounds so messed up. I can imagine ppl running in fear of the electric stock cause of the police being so irresponible with the water cannon. Condolences to the familes. This is truely a tragedy.

    November 22, 2010 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
  3. What th?

    Well this is one stampede you can't blame on the four legged animals – they were not involved. What gets me is these people do this sh!t every year an haven't learned a damn thing.

    November 22, 2010 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
  4. A more civilized man

    Are you even a little civilized? I'm glad not many Americans are like you.

    November 22, 2010 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Felicity

    So, so sad. The atmosphere for the Water Festival has wonderful with such excitement. It wasn't a stampede – it was a crush. The crowds here in Phnom Penh have been HUGE. Panicking people already trapped by the crowd tried to get away and many couldn't. Shame on the ignorant and judgmental who use this as a forum to show off their tiny minds and lack of compassion. Get a life.

    November 22, 2010 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Shawn and Shaina (Spokane, Washington)

    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)

    November 22, 2010 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  7. KM

    This is a tragedy that affected the whole country of Cambodia as well as millions of her citizens abroad. Regardless of how it happened or who to blame, I would think as human beings, we would feel some sorrow for those who lost their lives. It is not too much to ask for a little compassion during times like this. It saddens and angers me to read some of the comments posted here. Cambodia may not be a wealthy country, but her people are one of the nicest and kindest people you would meet. Please have some regards for those who are longer in this world. RIP.

    November 22, 2010 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Asiamaa

    My heart goes out to the families of the poor soles that lost their lives and or injured by this senseless mess. I have a daughter adopted from Cambodia , and have friends who live there. At this point I have no idea if they are among the dead or injured. Until I hear from them I cannot rest.

    November 22, 2010 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse |
  9. NewKhmerGen

    This was completely avoidable.. But, in retrospect this was all at the hands of the government. There was no consideration of public safety when a ceremony of this magnitude is being celebrated. There were no condolences to the families.. Just that it wasn't their fault. Now countless families will feel the loss of the individuals that perished on that bridge. Cambodia needs to wake up and get past their arrogance, and save OUR people. We need thinkers and the educated to run that country. You still have people in the government calling shots, that partook in our genocide. There is no government without the unification of the people, when your government fails you. You get rid of them and establish a government that works for the people!

    November 22, 2010 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
  10. So Sad

    I have had the honor of visiting the kingdom of cambodia three times. It is a beautiful country with a sad history, but the people are some of the most positive and kind hearted I have ever met. This is beyond tragic, and I am appalled at some of the comments on this article. I only hope that those with negative thoughts can see that what these people need is compassion and help, not to be looked down upon. I wish the best to the Cambodian people and to the families of those who lost their lives.

    November 22, 2010 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
  11. trey

    Damn tht Sux

    November 22, 2010 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Ksonn

    my family left from houston 3 days ago to cambodia.
    i hope their okay /:

    November 22, 2010 at 8:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dara

      why don't you contact us?
      But i hope they will be ok.

      November 22, 2010 at 10:13 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Proem Sok

    It very sad for my country. This is the first time of history in Cambodia so many people dead of can't take a breath on the very small bridge (Diamond Island) More than 300 people dead and more 150 people dead this morning after arrival at all Phnom Penh hospitals.

    November 22, 2010 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
  14. LyLy

    I stay in Malaysia now but I still a citizen of Cambodia. I felt so sad and sorry over this news i couldn't even concentrate on my exam. Rest in peace to those who lost their life :T.T:

    November 22, 2010 at 10:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dara

      i hope they will hear you said, although you are not hear.

      November 22, 2010 at 10:14 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Dara

    I have never seen this tragedy in my life. when i woke up in the morning, my father call me " are you ok?"
    I was suprise to his question, but i was shock when i heard around 300 cambodian people were died.
    I say nothing, becuase it never happen in my country. I can't cry, but My heart full of tear.
    I just want all of you who know this stragedy, please you join this mornig. i hope you will understand about our mind and their relative. Thanks...

    November 22, 2010 at 10:09 pm | Report abuse |
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