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Inmates Evacuated as Floodwater Fills Banteay Meanchey Prison

A Cambodian woman pushes a church gate with an oar to steer her wooden boat in a flooded area along the Mekong river in Koh Phos village, Kandal province near Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)
PHNOM PENH - More than 800 inmates were evacuated from a Banthey Meanchey prison Thursday morning, following heavy flooding that breached the walls and filled the cells, officials said.

“The height of the water reached the waist, shoulders or even necks in some parts,” said Soum Chankea, Banteay Meanchey’s provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc.

Five hundred prisoners were taken to a facility in nearby Siem Reap province, and another 344 were transferred to Battambang province, Hin Sophal, director of prisoners for the Ministry of Interior, told VOA Khmer.

Soum Chankea said that official negligence was likely behind the failure of the prison’s walls.

“The authorities should be more cautious,” he said. “They think they can control the flooding just by pumping water, but they have not come up with any measures to prevent the walls from collapsing.”

Cambodia’s prisoners are severely overcrowded, and it is unclear how long these facilities can properly healthily keep such an influx of inmates.

Meanwhile, severe flooding across half of Cambodia’s provinces has led to the deaths of 104 people so far, affecting 1.5 million people, 120,000 homes, 670 schools and 370 pagodas, disaster officials said.

Nhim Vanda, vice chief of the National Committee of Disaster Management, said the waters are now expected to subside.