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Cause of Deadly Crowd Panic Unclear, Authorities Say

Victims of a deadly stampede are carried onto a rescue truck in Phnom Penh, in what Cambodian Prime Minister calls the country's "worst tragedy" since the Khmer Rouge period.

The spark that caused the deadly panic in crowds Monday night at the conclusion of Cambodia’s largest annual festival remained unclear Tuesday morning, authorities told VOA Khmer.

A stampede at the conclusion of the three-day Water Festival killed at least 345 people and injured more than 400 others. The crowds grew unruly and dangerous shortly before 10 pm, and most of the victims were aged between 17 and 25, authorities told VOA Khmer.

Two toddlers, aged three and four, were saved from drowning, authorities confirmed early Tuesday. But they also described the deadly incident as one of the low points in modern Cambodian history.

There are conflicting reports about what sparked the chaos, according to interviews with witnesses, police, local authorities, and victim’s families.

Some witnesses said the incident was likely caused from an electrical shock when people were crossing the bridge of Koh Pich resort area. Others at the scene told VOA Khmer that people were spooked by rumors that the bridge would collapse. There were also reports of a fist fight on the bridge between two groups of teenagers and that when one group ran, turmoil erupted.

Prime Minister Hun Sen appeared several times throughout the night on Bayon TV. He sat at a desk, apparently at his home in Takhmau, on the outskirts of the capital. The broadcasts were carried simultaneously on two other prominent stations, TVK and CTN. Hun Sen said the incident was the worst affliction to strike Cambodia since the 1970s regime of the Khmer Rouge.

“The killing of Cambodian people this time is a second tragedy after Khmer Rouge regime,” a solemn Hun Sen said on the television broadcast.

Hun Sen publicly expressed his condolences and set up committees to investigate the incident.

Phnom Penh municipal authorities have set up special telephone numbers for people who wish to search for lost family members.

There are many people coming to Koh Pich to look for their relatives and many could not find them. They were told to go to Calmette hospital and other hospitals and clinics. Many were distraught.

Authorities have now cordoned off the area and tightened security for investigation. However, Prime Minister Hun Sen said that initial finding was that it was not “a terrorist attack”.