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City Begins Construction on Memorial Stupa

Cambodian flags flutter near a bridge where an accident took place last year during a ground breaking ceremony in Phnom Penh, Cambodia,Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011. At least 353 people were killed and 395 injured when thousands of festival-goers crammed onto a

Phnom Penh authorities broke ground on a memorial stupa on Thursday to honor victims of a deadly bridge stampede at last year’s Water Festival.

The Diamond Bridge stampede was the worst disaster in Cambodia’s modern history, leaving 354 dead and 393 seriously injured after a crowd panicked during festival revelries in November 2010.

Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema said at a ceremony Thursday the city was erecting the stupa in remembrance of the dead and to help their souls find peace.

“This was as lesson of great suffering that no one can forget,” he said. “The authorities themselves must seriously think about this problem when national festivals take place and when crowds of people join the festivals.”

No public officials were ever held accountable for the disaster, which was caused when thousands of people crowded onto the bridge leading to Diamond Island in the midst of festivities. A government inquiry said no one was to blame for what it called an accident.

The stupa, which sits near the foot of the bridge, is planned to be 33 meters wide at its base, 5 meters high and made of sandstone. Kep Chuktema said it would cost more than $120,000 and will be completed before Nov. 22, the one-year anniversary of the tragedy.

Chek Bophy, 49, who lost her daughter, Duch Srey Mom, said she was happy the stupa was being built.

“The city is building the memorial stupa for people killed on the Diamond Island bridge, to preserve history for younger generations and not let us forget that the place was crowded with people,” she said. “That place is dangerous.”

Kep Chuktema said the city had learned lessons from the tragedy and was taking serious measures to improve its crowd control.

“Now we are constructing two more bridges connecting the island to the mainland, to make traffic more comfortable,” he said. “We experienced a deadly accident on the night of Nov. 22, 2010. It was an experience of great suffering, and we must record it and take necessary measures in human management.”