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At Deadly Bridge, Prayers for Souls To Rest Easy

The Diamond bridge had nearly 10,000 people on it, on the night of the stampede, according to an official.
The Diamond bridge had nearly 10,000 people on it, on the night of the stampede, according to an official.

Thousands of mourners gathered along the banks of the Tonle Bassac river on Thursday, as the impact of the Diamond Bridge tragedy continued to reverberate throughout the country.

Families of the deceased were joined by everyday Cambodians and senior officials alike, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, the governor of Phnom Penh and opposition lawmakers.

Three hundred and forty-seven people perished on the bridge late Monday, trammeled in a panicked stampede following Water Festival revelry, in what Hun Sen called the worst disaster to hit the country since the Khmer Rouge.

Mourners placed flowers at the foot of the bridge and along the bank Thursday, lighting candles and incense and weeping. Hun Sen appeared to sob before a shrine near the bridge, as his wife, Bun Rany, dabbed a tissue at her eyes.

Family of the dead brought flowers, bananas and other fruit to the river, setting them among photographs of lost loved ones and burning joss sticks. They prayed for the souls of the dead to find peace and that they not haunt the bridge.

“I’ve come to light incense in respect of my son’s soul, and all of those dead, to rest in peace and be reincarnated and not to be a wandering soul here,” said Sum Sopheap, a 47-year-old mother from Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district.

Distraught families were joined by other Cambodians grappling with the scale of the tragedy.

“I’ve come to join in the mourning and condolences, in a horrific event I’ve never met before,” said Im Saravy, 43, from the capital’s Prampi Makara district. “I feel shock and fear.”

For some, the bridge had become an icon of fear to be avoided.

“This bridge is a path that people cannot walk on or travel through because so many people died,” said In Sak, 33, who carried apples and a photograph of her dead cousin. “I hate it and feel nauseated by this bridge, and I do not want to step on this bridge.”

As Cambodia mourned, more calls came to find those responsible for Monday night’s death toll. A government committee has said only that the panic was caused by a crush of people who feared the swaying bridge would collapse.

Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the Sam Rainsy Party, told reporters near the site the government needed to make a “thorough investigation” of the tragedy.

No one has been held accountable, he said, including “responsible persons in charge of preparing the national ceremony and security affairs issues.”

Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema called the tragedy “a major lesson for me and my authorities” for holding large celebrations in the future.

“This was an accident we did not want,” he said.

Om Yentieng, a senior government advisor and a member of the bridge disaster investigating committee, said the probe was continuing, with an official response expected next week.

“A small bridge had nearly 10,000 people standing on it,” he said. “It was too overwhelming.”