Bridge collapse fear sparked stampede
Casualty figures in Cambodia differ
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — As a suspension bridge in the Cambodian capital swayed under the weight of thousands of revelers, some began to shout that the structure was going to collapse.
Others pushed, heaved, and even jumped off the span in the grip of a panic that ended in the deaths of more than 350 people.
Though typical, the movement of the bridge terrified the festival goers — many of whom were in Phnom Penh from the provinces for the end of rainy season and were unfamiliar with such bridges, city police Chief Touch Naroth said yesterday, citing a government investigation he took part in.
“People became panicked when they saw other people fall down, and they started running when they heard cries that the bridge was going to collapse,’’ Touch Naroth told AP Television News.
The police chief shared details of the investigation, though an official report has not been released.
Khieu Kanharith, information minister, said yesterday that the official casualty toll was 351 dead with 395 injured.
But casualty figures have been a matter of confusion, with officials saying Tuesday that at least 755 people were hurt.
The Ministry of Social Welfare, for instance, is now citing two death tolls: one, based on data collected from hospitals in the capital, that is similar to the official figure, and another — 456 — based on reports collected from provincial officials.
The discrepancy could stem from the fact that friends or relatives took victims’ bodies home before they could be registered.
Prime Minister Hun Sen described the stampede as the biggest tragedy since the communist Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror, which killed an estimated 1.7 million people in the late 1970s.
He declared a day of national mourning for today.
As many as 2 million people are believed to have come to the capital for celebrations of a three-day holiday marking the end of the monsoon season.
As festivities wrapped up Monday night, tens of thousands flocked to a free concert on an island in the Bassac river.
An estimated 7,000 to 8,000 people were streaming over a bridge that connects the island to the mainland when it began to sway, according to Banyon TV, which serves as a mouthpiece for the government and was citing the investigation committee.
For today’s day of national mourning, the Tourism Ministry has asked all entertainment venues, including karaoke parlors, nightclubs, beer gardens, and discotheques, to close.