Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Water Festival Tragedy in Phnom Penh

In Phnom Penh last night there was a massive stampede that left some 378 people dead (as of the latest count). It was the last night of Water Festival which celebrates the end of rainy season. During this festival, massive amounts of people come to Phnom Penh to watch the boat races. Most of the people that visit are from the countryside and make the journey to town to watch the races and take part in the other festivities going on around the city. I know everyone in my village wanted to come and everyone constantly asked if I was going. They would say, "There are so many people there and it is so happy happy." To which I'd respond, "There are too many people and so many thieves." The thieves part usually stopped their asking. I was there last year for a night and swore I'd NEVER go again because it's so crazy, expensive, and, like I said, full of thieves. This morning at the market everyone told me how lucky I was that I didn't go to Phnom Penh!

It all took place on an island close to the shore near the Royal Palace. There was a concert and a lot of people showed up. There were way too many people on the island and somehow (accounts vary) someone got scared and started to panic causing everyone else to seek the only exit- a small bridge- off the island. Some jumped or were pushed off into the water, but most were packed together so tightly they couldn't breath. It has been horrible to see (the Khmer don't seem to mind too much..but then again they lived through Pol Pot) the graphic pictures and filming of it all unfolding. At one point I saw a police officer pulling a person from a mass of people squeezed together so tight on the bridge no one could move.

Here is a link from the New York Times with some pictures:

In my province about 30 people were killed (if I understand correctly, the most from any province). This includes a student from my school and two from the village next to mine. I didn't know them, but it's still horrible. The newspapers report that some people thought the bridge was collapsing which is what sparked the panic. According to my cousin- someone saw a ghost.

One of the police officers from my town, who is also my neighbor, phoned me today to make sure I wasn't in Phnom Penh. I thought it so thoughtful. All that heard the story can rest assured that I'm safe and sound in the middle of nowhere!

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