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Hundreds killed in Cambodian Water Festival panic

by Jorge Hernandez on November 23, 2010

At least 378 people were killed and hundreds more were injured in a stampede that was set off during the Cambodian Water Festival celebrating the end of the rainy season in the nation's capital on Monday.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the first waves of panic rippled through the crowd when participants began returning to the mainland after attending a concert on an artificial island in Phnom Penh. The bridge connecting the island was roughly 30 yards wide, and some suffocated in place or were trampled underfoot as the crowd grew denser.

Ambulances and rescuers continued to search for survivors Tuesday on a bridge strewn with shoes, debris and bodies piled on one another. The capital's main hospital was quickly filled to capacity, which resulted in some being treated in hospital hallways, reports NPR.

Prime Minister Hun Sen called it the biggest tragedy for Cambodia since the reign of Khmer Rouge in the 1970s and declared Thursday a national day of mourning.

According to NPR, a couple of Singaporean businessmen said authorities had closed off another bridge to the island, which forced tens of thousands of people to use one exit. Authorities denied that electrocution from the bridge worsened the panic, though witness accounts online attest to the effects of electric shock.

"There were cries and calls for help from everywhere, but nobody could help each other. Everyone just ran," Chea Srey Lak told the news source.

The prime minister called for an investigation into the cause of the stampede. Freelance journalist Aya Kimura told the L.A. Times that there are usually "close calls" during the water festival due to the massive amounts of people that gather, though this is the first year that has resulted in a major disaster.

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