PHNOM PENH (November 22, 2010) – Lasse Norgaard of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies – Phnom Penh office, writes that “What is normally the highlight of the year, the beautiful Water Festival in Cambodia, ended in tragedy Monday night, when hundreds of people were crushed to death or suffocated on an overcrowed bridge in the capital Phnom Penh.
More than 340 people died and almost 400 suffered injuries, when panic broke out at the end of the three day festival. It is still uncertain what caused the stampede, but some people on the bridge linking Phnom Penh to the Diamond Island in the middle of the Tonle Sap River were electrocuted when trying to escape and jump into the river, whereas others where crushed to death or suffocated as people were pushing from both sides of the bridge.
The tragedy has been described as ‘the worst since the Pol Pot regime’ by the country’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, and it appears that many teenagers are among the dead.
Cambodia Red Cross is present during the Water Festival with First Aid and Road Safety posts and provided assistance to around 100 people immediately after the disaster. 50 volunteers are now dispatched to assist four hospitals in the capital, where the injured have been taken, and where people search for relatives. 50 other volunteers are lined up to replace the first teams.
“Psychosocial support and restoring family links are among the most urgent tasks for the Red Cross today, and everybody is rallying behind the Cambodia Red Cross”, says the head of the IFRC country office Leena Kamarainen.
ICRC is sending two staff with expertise in restoring family links, French Red Cross is assisting the Cambodian Red Cross with psychosocial support and IFRC is supporting with the overall coordination of the assistance during the coming days. 200 body bags have also been dispatched from Bangkok.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton offered condolences to the people of Cambodia regarding the horrific tragedy that occurred earlier that day when hundreds of festival goers were crushed or drowned on the Pich Bridge in the Koh Pich Area of Phnom Penh.
The Cambodian government reports having set up disaster teams to handle the unfortunate and regretful event and then held a national day of mourning for those who lost their lives on November 25, 2010.
“On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, I offer our deep condolences for the tragic loss of life and the injuries in Phnom Penh during Cambodia’s annual Water Festival,” said Clinton. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the victims and with all the people of the Kingdom of Cambodia. I have seen their strength and resilience first hand, including during my recent visit, and I am confident that they will pull together and persevere through this difficult time.”
The Royal Government of Cambodia expressed great regret about the incident that has caused the loss of hundreds of lives and many more injured during annual Water and Moon Festival festivities.
To share the condolences to the family of the victims, the Royal Government would is appealing to national and international charitable contributors for financial or material contributions in the spirit of the solidarity in order to help and share the victims’ difficulties.