Asia-Pacific

Eyewitness: Cambodia stampede

People are pushed onto a bridge in Phnom Penh. Photo: 22 November 2010
Image caption There are fears the death toll will rise further

Emergency workers in Cambodia are continuing their search for bodies after the deaths of at least 378 people in a crush at the Water Festival.

The country's prime minister has announced a day of mourning on Thursday for the victims.

Here, two eyewitnesses in Phnom Penh explain what they saw:

Charlotte Melville, travel writer from London

Image caption "The city is back to work, but unusually quiet"

I was on my way home with a friend at about 22:30, trying to get through the crowds stuck in gridlock around the Independence Monument.

A couple of ambulances were trying to get through the crowds.

Three or four further ambulances came past heading south, followed by several police bikes going dangerously fast through the crowds, that were several hundred thousand-strong and presumably oblivious to what was going on.

The manageress at the hotel where I'm staying lost her friend in the crush. She said that a group of teenagers were fighting on the bridge.

Apparently people panicked as the crowd pushed back away from the fighting boys on the north bridge and people were crushed.

The bridge was exit only, with a knee-height chain across the entrance to keep out motorbikes, flanked by policemen.

Given that the medical services here are roughly a generation behind neighbouring countries, owing mainly to the intellectual genocide by the Khmer Rouge that wiped out a generation of doctors, the hospitals must be struggling to cope with the casualties.

A day after and the city is back to work, but unusually quiet, particularly along the waterfront, and the faces say a great deal.

Australian Sean Ngu, in Cambodia visiting family

I was in the park, some 30m away from the bridge. There was lots of noise and celebration cheer. Suddenly the cheer became screams, louder and louder. At first we thought people were celebrating, but the screams were different.

There were too many people on the bridge and both ends were pushing towards the centre. The pushing caused those in the middle to fall to the ground and then get crushed.

Those who were leaning against them were pushed further into the centre. This caused a sudden panic. I saw at least 50 people jumping in the river.

Others tried to climb onto the bridge, grabbing and pulling loose cables - electric shocks caused many more deaths.

It was complete chaos, nobody knew what to do. The police, security and the military came straight away. Ambulances arrived within minutes. The prime minister and his wife also came straight away to inspect the situation.

The police started to move the crowd away from the area. We stood nearby, trying to see if anyone will emerge from the water and hear the latest announcements on the number of deaths.

No-one saw one single person coming out of the river - all those people must have drowned.

The last we heard on local news was that nearly 400 people are dead and that 240 of them are women and girls. Over 1,000 people are injured. The main hospital is full - they normally charge for hospital treatment, but they are not charging tonight.

I am shocked, everybody is shocked. It happened so quickly.

We are at home now and the phones haven't stopped. People are calling their friends and family to make sure they are fine.

The water festival is one of the most important celebrations in the year and many people arrive from the countryside. The city is full of people. It is very quiet right now, apart from the ambulances.

What a tragic end to a wonderful celebration.