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Celebrations turn deadly in Cambodia, 378 dead

Last updated on: November 23, 2010 16:20 IST

Celebrations turn deadly in Cambodia

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At least 378 people were killed and hundreds injured in a stampede in Cambodia that broke out while thousands were celebrating a water festival on an island in a river in Phnom Penh late on Monday night.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said it was not immediately clear what triggered the stampede. "This needs to be investigated more," he said, adding that a committee would be set up to examine the incident.


Image: People try to rush out during the stampede
Photographs: Reuters
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Media agencies reported that Calmette Hospital, the capital's main medical facility, was filled to capacity with bodies as well as patients, some of whom had to be treated in hallways. Many of the injured appeared to be badly hurt, raising the prospect that the death toll could rise as local hospitals became overwhelmed.

Steve Finch, a Phnom Penh Post reporter, told CNN that the stampede began when police fired a water cannon onto a bridge to an island in the centre of the river.


Image: A woman's shoe is seen among the debris as police cordon off the bridge
Photographs: Chor Sokunthea/Reuters
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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. He said a number of people lost consciousness and fell into the water; some may have been electrocuted.


Image: People gather near the bridge as police investigate the site of the stampede
Photographs: Chor Sokunthea/Reuters
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The revellers tried to escape the bridge and ended up triggering the massive stampede, as hundreds of people were crushed under the feet of the crowd. According to reports, some people even fell off the bridge in the ensuing mayhem. Rescuers were looking for people who might have drowned in the river.

Image: Police cordon off the bridge
Photographs: Chor Sokunthea/Reuters
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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 Jayvarman VII, according to the Tourism Cambodia website.

"This is the biggest tragedy we have experienced in the last 31 years, since the collapse of the Khmer Rouge regime," Prime Minister Hun Sen said.


Image: Military police at the bridge
Photographs: Chor Sokunthea/Reuters
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