Families seek Cambodia stampede victims

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Families in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh have been scouring morgues and hospitals in search of relatives missing after a deadly stampede.

Search teams have also been trawling a river for bodies after the crush on a footbridge left at least 378 people dead and hundreds more injured.

Prime Minister Hun Sen declared Thursday a day of mourning and promised an investigation into the disaster.

The stampede happened on the final day of the traditional Water Festival.

Witnesses said the bridge had become overcrowded.

Hun Sen described the stampede as the "biggest tragedy" to hit Cambodia since the mass killings carried out by the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s.

He has ordered all government ministries to fly the national flag at half-mast.

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At the Preah Kossamak hospital, San Supa told how she discovered that her daughter and son-in-law had died in the stampede.

"They both told me that they wanted to watch the light boat parade at night and then they went missing and I came straight away to the hospital and I found out that they died," she said.

Another woman, Sem Sreyleak, said she had been scouring makeshift morgues and the city's hospitals looking for her niece.

"She came to Phnom Penh a day before the Water Festival started. There is still no news about her," she said.

The bridge crosses the Bassac river, which on Tuesday was being searched for victims believed to have drowned after falling into the water.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said 755 people had been injured and warned that the death toll could rise further. No foreigners were said to be among those killed.

'Sudden panic'

Authorities had estimated that more than two million people would attend the three-day festival, one of the main events of the year in Cambodia.

Panic broke out after a concert on Diamond Island, which followed a boat race on the Tonle Sap river regarded as a highlight of the festivities.

Recent stampedes

  • Jan 2005 - Up to 300 Hindu pilgrims die on way to temple in India's Maharashtra state
  • Aug 2005 - More than 1,000 Shia pilgrims die in Baghdad in panic over possible suicide bombing
  • Jan 2006 - At least 364 pilgrims die in annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mina, Saudi Arabia
  • Sep 2008 - More than 220 die at Hindu temple in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India

Sean Ngu, an Australian who was visiting family and friends in Cambodia, told the BBC too many people had been on the bridge.

He said some of the victims were electrocuted.

"There were too many people on the bridge and then both ends were pushing," he said.

"This caused a sudden panic. The pushing caused those in the middle to fall to the ground, then [get] crushed.

"Panic started and at least 50 people jumped in the river. People tried to climb on to the bridge, grabbing and pulling [electric] cables which came loose and electrical shock caused more deaths."

Funerals have already been held for some of those killed in the stampede

Khon Sros told Reuters news agency from her hospital bed that the area had been packed.

"People were pushing each other and I fell," she said. "People were shouting 'go, go'."

The 19-year-old said she had been pinned in the crowd from her waist down until police pulled her out.

"One man died near me. He was weak and didn't have enough air."

A day after the disasters, sunglasses, flip-flops and brightly coloured clothes lay scattered on the bridge.

Revellers watched as the bodies of youths in party clothes were carried away from the bridge, which was still decked with bright lights from the festival.

Many of the dead appeared to be teenagers.

The stampede is the world's worst since August 2005, when more than 1,000 Shia pilgrims were crushed to death or drowned in the Tigris river in Baghdad, Iraq, after rumours of a suicide bomb attack sparked a panic.

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