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Water Festival Crowds Turn Deadly as More Than 300 Die

An injured Cambodian is carried by police officers and another visitor after a stampede in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Monday, Nov. 22, 2010. Thousands of Cambodians celebrating a water festival by the river in the Cambodian capital stampeded Monday night,

Cambodia's annual Water Festival ended Monday with more than 300 revelers killed in a stampede, officials said.

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said the incident took place after thousands of festival goers got caught in a pedestrian jam on a newly-built bridge at Phnom Penh Koh Pich development area. Many fell, were trampled and suffocated to death, police and local authorites said. Most were between the ages of 17 and 25, they said.

Ambulances and police cars raced between the river where the stampede took place and hospitals.

“Please call a doctor for me,” cried out a girl, kneeling at the scene. “There are four or five more missing. Please come to help over here.”

At Calmette, one of the hospitals, the wounded were carried out of the ambulances into emergency rooms, but due to limited capacity of the facility some were put at several places including walkway.

Some died on arrival at the hospitals.

“They stepped on top of each other,” a witness told VOA Khmer. “Some jumped off the bridge and broke their legs and arms. The bridge exits were totally blocked. People could not move. If they didn’t jump, they would have been killed.”

Old and young people alike lay dead on the bridge, witnesses said.

“Take a long and deep breath,” a doctor told the patients lying on the beds. “Don’t worry. There is nothing to worry about now.”

“My legs are hurting,” cried a girl nearby.

Tens of thousands people were attending the Water Festival when the stampede occurred.

The three-day Water Festival is the largest public gathering in Cambodia each year. Government offiicals say that in recent years four million of Cambodia's 14 million citizens take part annually in the celebration.