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For Some, a Bridge No Longer Feared

  • VOA Khmer

For weeks after the tragedy, most Cambodians avoided the bridge, worried in part for the spirits that were likely to remain there.

For weeks after the tragedy, most Cambodians avoided the bridge, worried in part for the spirits that were likely to remain there.

Three months after the Water Festival bridge stampede, Diamond Bridge is now party to some visitors, but business to Diamond Island remains slow.

The stampede killed 353 people and injured 393 more when a crowd panicked, in what the government called an unforeseeable accident. For weeks after the tragedy, most Cambodians avoided the bridge, worried in part for the spirits that were likely to remain there.

But as families of the victims prepare for a 100-day Buddhist funeral ceremony, much of that trepidation has passed.

“I think what happened is in the past,” one Phnom Penh resident said as he took in the city view from the island last week. “I get bored after I work a full day,” he said, so he comes to the bridge and island to relax.

There are some who come to this place and remember the tragedy, like Vouch Sreng, a 20-year-old who witnessed the tragedy unfold on Nov. 22, 2010.

“I remember there was a crowd piled here,” he said, standing with friends and staring into the waters of river tributary, where many festival-goers jumped when the bridge became overcrowded.

The stampede was the worst disaster in Cambodia’s modern history. Government officials said no one was to blame for what it called an accident, following an investigation.

However, an independent investigation conducted by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights found a number of contributing factors.

After interviewing more than 100 witnesses of the tragedy, including those in the crowd, the center found that an absence of police and a lack of experience by the authorities contributed to the overcrowding and the panic.

Witnesses also reported electrical shock from the bridge as one cause for the stampede.

“Twenty people among 105 interviewed said one of the reasons was from electrocution,” Oeur Narin, an investigator for the center, told “Hello VOA” on Monday.

Authorities have so far denied reports of electric shock on the bridge.

Oeur Narin said investigators also found that it took at least 30 minutes for responders to reach the bridge after the most serious overcrowding began.

“For the next water festival, the government needs to deploy more policemen and announce clearly the use of the bridge, especially for people from the provinces,” he said. “Training for security teams is needed, and the government and public hospitals must continue to treat victims who are not yet fully recovered.”

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