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Daughter Sought ‘Fun’ Festival Before Bridge Tragedy

Stampede victims are seen rescued by police officers and fellow bystanders. The Diamond Bridge tragedy killed 353 people and injured nearly 400.
Stampede victims are seen rescued by police officers and fellow bystanders. The Diamond Bridge tragedy killed 353 people and injured nearly 400.

It has been two weeks since Kim Sineng lost her daughter, Sok Lai Eng.

“She always used sweet words with her mother, her family,” Kim Sineng said, sitting on a wooden bed in a house near the Kandal province garment factory where her daughter worked. “She would take care of me when I was sick. She wanted me to wear clothes like a rich person. She said she would be happy to see me where clothes like this.”

Sok Lai Eng was 23, the third of six children, and she had left her job as a waitress in Kampot province for work in the garment factory in Kandal. Like millions of Cambodians, she had gone to Phnom Penh to watch the Water Festival. Like thousands of others, she had become trapped on Diamond Bridge on the night of Nov. 22. And like 352 others, she died on the bridge, when the throng became so packed that revelers panicked and stampeded.

Her mother said Sok Lai Eng had taken the job to help reduce the family’s debt and help them build a new house. She had $6 in her pocket when she left for the Water Festival. She died alongside one of her friends on bridge.

“She said her last words before going out, that she wanted to hear happy words,” her mother said, as tears ran down her sun-darkened face. “And she asked me permission to go to visit the Water Festival to have fun. I reminded her to be careful because it was crowded, and I wouldn’t be able to help her if anything happened.”

Sok Lai Eng had four sisters and one brother. The family relies on silk weaving to make a living, but with the silk market in decline, her mother had sent her to work as a waitress in Kampot and then to joint two older sisters in the Kandal factory. None of her sisters had went to school beyond 10th grade, while her younger brother has continued study in public school.

Kim Sineng said she lost touch with her daughter around 7 pm, and that night received a phone call saying she was missing. Kim Sineng spent hours searching the hospitals of Phnom Penh, as casualties continued to rise and the scope of the disaster unfolded. There were so many dead, she could not find her daughter.

“I prayed to Buddha, saying that if my daughter was really dead, I should find her corpse, because I didn’t see her in two or three hospitals,” said Kim Sineng, whose eyes have become rimmed in red from constant crying. “Then I found her and I prayed again to bring her home.”

The family has now received about $7,000 of at least $12,000 expected from payments from the government, donors and others.

“Even if I received five times the money, it could not buy the soul of my daughter,” said Mam Chha, Sok Lai Eng’s father. “But we can’t say anything because it was an accident. And it is our wish that they should be well-prepared for the next time."