Chan Serey was supposed to meet his wife, Chhim Srey Touch, and his three children on Diamond Island for the last night of the Water Festival. But in the crowded holiday traffic, he only made it as far as the Sorya shopping center near Central Market. It was impossible to reach the island with so many revelers packed along the roads.
The traffic saved his life, but the same overcrowding that stopped him from reaching his family also took them away from him. The 37-year-old soldier lost all four of his family that night: his wife and his daughters Yos Som Srey Neang and Yos Som Channara, and his 6-year-old son, Yos Som Lina.
All of them had been trapped on Diamond Bridge, where thousands of people panicked and stampeded on the night of Nov. 22, leaving now 352 dead and nearly 90 still in the hospital. The government has said it was an unforeseeable accident with no one to blame. For the families of the dead, it remains an unforgettable tragedy.
“I'll never forget what happened at Diamond Island,” he said Monday. “Every day, I dream my wife and son have come to visit me. My tears always fall when I'm reminded of my family.”
In the days following the tragedy, Chan Serey has received more than $40,000, or $10,000 for each of the lost members of his family, as donations from the public, government, royal family and Diamond Island developers has come.
He says he has no idea what to do with the money, but he is waiting until the 100-day ceremony for his family to decide.
“The amount of money is too much for me,” he said. “I've never had money like this. But it doesn't compare to the lives of my wife and children.”
Neighbors near Chan Serey's house in Long Vek commune, in Kampong Chhnang's Kampong Tralach district, say their thoughts are with him.
Meas Sokhorn, a 25-year-old neighbor of the family in Long Vek, and a policeman in the commune, said all the neighbors care for Chan Serey “very much.” “He's a gentle man, a good and kind man, and he's so friendly,” he said. “We the neighbors have deep condolences for him.”
With the family gone, Chan Serey's house has been closed up for the past two weeks, with Chan Serey working in Kampong Speu, at the Tmart Pong military base. Neighbors keep an eye on the empty house, Meas Sokhorn said.
Meanwhile, Chan Serey says he will carry on.
“Now I've lost everything,” he said. “But I'm not weak. I'll fight for my life. When I lost my family, my wife, my children, rumors said I was suicidal. But I think it's not true. I'm still alive.”