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For Fire Victims, No New Year

There was no new-year merriment for the hundreds of victims of a Phnom Penh fire last week. Their homes were destroyed in the seven-hour blaze, many of their belongings gone in smoke.

“We used to organize for the Khmer New Year joyfully,” lamented Pov Norn. “But now we have no courage, and no way to celebrate New Year. All our money has been destroyed.”

Hundreds of families have built makeshift homes of blue tarpaulin in a large field near their burned homes. A giant plastic water basin sits in the middle of the camp.

“We prayed for our ancestors to pardon us this year, as we cannot organize a New Year ceremony,” said Um Phon, sitting in one of the shacks. “We prayed to them to go and see other members of the family who have not had their homes burned.”

At least 450 houses were destroyed in the April 11 fire, leaving 500 families without shelter. Officials have said they were unable to fight the blaze because narrow roads prevented their trucks from reaching the homes.

“We regret this, but we will help them as much as we possibly can,” said Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Man Chhoeurn.

Authorities are looking for a way to rebuild a village for the victims, he said, adding that the new site would have wider roads.