On Monday night, there were sounds of joy, as revelers spent the last few hours of the three-day Water Festival on Diamond Island. But as they crossed the bridge, those sounds were replaced by groans, as more and more people packed onto the structure.
People were pressed from all sides, three survivors of the tragedy, which claimed 347 lives, told “Hello VOA” on Thursday.
“When the crowd became more and more narrow, with people pushing in, it was hard to breathe,” said Ros Kong, who was stuck among the mass of people that would eventually panic and stampede. “People then tried to push upwards to breathe. The whole crowd became like trees bent in a gust of wind, to the left or right, as the wave of pushing surged.”
Authorities have not found a definitive moment when the overcrowding devolved into something more dangerous, but an investigative committee official said Wednesday he suspected people thought the swaying suspension bridge was close to collapse.
As panic ensued, people began to climb over each other. Those who could not stand fell beneath the feet of the others. Health officials say most of the casualties were crushed or suffocated.
For survivor Bun Sophal, the stampede led to an arduous wait on the bridge, as police and medical responders fought a heavy crowd to reach the bridge.
“I almost made it to the end of the bridge,” Bun Sophal said. “But because it was too narrow, I got stuck right there. I had to wait until I almost died for police to come.”
The survivors spoke live following a national day of mourning that brought some comfort to relatives of the victims. But serious questions remain as to who was responsible for allowing thousands of people to crowd onto the bridge.
Callers to “Hello VOA” said they wanted to know what caused the panic and who was to blame for the deaths. So far there have been few answers. The government’s inquiry is expected to issue results next week.
“I don’t know if there were police at both ends, because I was trapped in the middle of the bridge,” Math Seila, a third survivor said. “Had there been, they would have been able to save us on time.”
She eventually jumped from the bridge, escaping the crush of people but injuring herself in the process.
Ros Kong said it took almost two hours for police to reach the bridge.
“I could only see the authorities coming to help us after people started fainting and died,” Math Seila said. “Had there been security forces close by, they would have helped us long before. I just wonder why.”