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. cdgfla

    If ever there was proof of human beings being a slightly higher functioning animal, this is it. Panic over nothing incites the fight or flight mentality to kick in, closely followed by self preservation instincts. We are really nothing more than a group of collective pack animals despite what the Jesus crowd would have you believe. For all our accomplishments, its clear that one tiny event magnified out of proportion can hurl our mentality back 100,000 years to the point that we will kill each other in a panicked display of stupidity.

    November 22, 2010 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • HUH?

      What gibberish. No we are much more than animals you clod. There are numerous events that have large crowds such as this and they do not stampede people do death. Maybe you are nothing more than a roach in your mentality but I am not. I never push, and shove people to get somewhere. Its called love of neighbor and there are many who still practice this despite these idiotic displays of stupidity.

      November 22, 2010 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hate disrespect people

      dude, first, go clean your mouth up *sign* i forget you are not a human, second, try putting yourself into those people shoes and try to think what happen if a boom drop over your head and there is hundreds of people around you, are you still walking or are you running for your little life even if it mean to step over people, dude, and try to think when you are on a small bridge with only one way out, what is gonna happen to the respect of neighbor because you just want to run for the heck of your life. And third they are not dumb, you are the dummy because you never consider the situation before you comments.

      December 8, 2010 at 8:20 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Sparky

    zipperheads gone wild

    November 22, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  3. sip

    I am utterly disgusted at the ignorance and racism shown in most of these comments. Are you human?? You must not know or understand Cambodian culture. THESE ARE HUMAN LIVES PEOPLE! And the comment about "Cambodians being mean, etc.", really? how many Cambodian people do you know like this? What a racist remark. How sad...If you knew anything about Cambodian culture, you would understand that the culture is one of peace. Exception: Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot Regime. How do I know this? My family is Cambodian.

    November 22, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  4. skokie

    Sad situation, thats the reason I don't like large gatherings.

    November 22, 2010 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Félix Tremblay

    C'est stupide! Comment peut-on être partisan d'un évènement au point de se faire piétiner et, encore pire, de piétiner des individus?

    November 22, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • pileonmaster

      English, please

      November 22, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
  6. naenae

    i think this could've been prevented..what was the cause of this stampede? that's what i don't understand the article doesn't state why they stampeded

    November 22, 2010 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
  7. non chalant

    I love how non-chalantly this story is posted. People Died! and for what again? ridiculous...seriously. I'm for DocLowery...send in a few at atime, kind of like fire marshall's putting a limit on how many people can occupy a space....makes sense.....dumb...just dumb

    November 22, 2010 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dale

      That is because 300 brown people died. If this had happened in Idaho for example, it would be on the news for the next 2 weeks with report after report of family members telling their stories about the victims. There would teary-eyed close ups and people calling in crying over people they don't even know. But since white america only cares about white america, they simply say ' 300 brownies got their brains smashed. Tune in next for Britney Spears new BRA!!!!!!!!!'

      November 22, 2010 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
  8. jay

    No matter what people say or do I will always be a proud american who fights for this country no matter how ignorant people are that will never change and the love I have for the USA will never change either. Get your mind right

    November 22, 2010 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Beef

      WHAT are you babbling about? I fail to see the relevance.

      November 22, 2010 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jomama

    I was hoping that something like this would've taken place during the 'Million Man March"... No luck...

    November 22, 2010 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
  10. notborncynical

    When this festival started in the 12th century there was probably 1/500th of the current population living there and the probability of stampeding was nonexistent. Now that the festival attracts who knows how many thousands of people to one place, this is bound to happen. Nobody has considered the increased population as a negative factor at these things, or made any type of safety preparations to address it. It's sad, but at the same time it's hard to feel sorry for a government/people that puts themselves in harms way

    November 22, 2010 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Sharad

    I remember first hearing of this concept of tragedy with the 1979 The Who concert stampede just to get inside the venue here in Cincinnati in the U.S.

    November 22, 2010 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Sam

    Over 200 human lives are lost and you're talking about it being humiliating or watching more "funny" videos of it... Really? This is what you've become? An empty shell that feels nothing and appreciates nothing and values nothing of this life or its fragility? Grow up, get a life, and do something other than watching stupid movies and playing idiotic video games.

    These people went to the event and planning the rest of their days; there was a panic. Are you even able to imagine what it is like to stand there and feel yourself being crushed to death? Crushed to the point that you don't have the strength to fill your lungs with another desperate breath of air. That you can't even move. Your arms pinned, your body pinned, and you're just dying. You can hear and feel your bones being crushed. Your screams of agony lost in the midst of everyone else's. You feel yourself slowly losing your life and facing it. Just knowing you're going to die and simply waiting for it. The torture these people went through as they felt death coming to them ever so slowly. They probably spent those last moments thinking of loved one's wishing they could've told them they loved them more time or didn't have that fight in the morning with a spouse.

    But no, it seems that "fun" and laughter and complete and utter arrogance and insensitivity are what many of you care about. It is a tragedy... Over 200 tragedies. Over 200 families shattered. Life is beyond precious. Wives without husbands, parents without children, children without parents, siblings without siblings. And you just want laughter and fun out of it. You're the ones who lost your humanity and I truly hope that you find it somehow. These people were more real and had more love and emotions in their finger tips than many people who posted here. They at least weren't dead inside long before they've lost their lives.

    I wish you all the best and if anything good comes out of this, I hope, that at least someone can say "I love you" one more time. Or someone appreciate the few extra moments they have in this life. And if you pray, pray that the families can get some peace. Oh how fragile life is and how sad that so many of us have made it so empty. Oh how I wish I could've done more and helped more or been there more.

    And Patricia, thank you for your post. If only this pride and arrogance were to disappear, how much better this world would be.

    November 22, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • JJ

      I appreciate your sincere comment. The world need more people like you. Thank you.

      November 22, 2010 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Yada Yada

      Thank you Oprah...

      November 22, 2010 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Dj

    Its sad.
    they are responsible for their own mismanagement and over excited crowd.

    November 22, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jack

    To Chase, your tax moneys will be well spent in Afganistan and Iraq. The Wars that USA will never win. Cambodia has not received any aids from the USA since 1975, so shut your mouth and get educate! You stupit shT!

    November 22, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Dylan

    Thats really unfortunate. It's a shame how these things happen. What I don't get though is how the festival started before (7th Century) the event they are celebrating it for (12 Century)?

    November 22, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
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