Rescuers are trawling the river in Phnom Penh after a stampede on a bridge led to hundreds being crushed or falling into the water. Prime Minister Hun Sen said it was the biggest tragedy since the Khmer Rouge regime.
The cause of the stampede in Phnom Penh remains unclear
The stampede happened on Monday evening at about 9.30 pm local time as thousands were making their way from an island where a concert to celebrate the end of the annual water festival had taken place back to mainland Phnom Penh.
The cause of the stampede remained unclear on Tuesday. Some survivors said that the crowds had decided to turn around when they saw a storm coming. Others reported that a few people had been electrocuted, triggering a mass panic.
According to the police, it was people shouting that the bridge was about to collapse, which caused the crush and incited some to jump into the water to escape.
Boat races are main attraction of the annual water festival
A vendor who sold drinks near the exit from the bridge onto the mainland said that barriers that had been put in place to prevent people from walking onto the road meant it was difficult to get off quickly. Those behind backed up and many were crushed.
There were also conflicting reports about whether the police had been doing enough to control the crowds.
Emergency rescue crews rushed to the scene. They transported hundreds of injured survivors to local hospitals and also started laying out bodies in rows for identification.
Biggest tragedy since Pol Pot
Prime Minister Hun Sen apologized for the disaster.
"This is the biggest tragedy in more than 31 years since the Pol Pot regime," he said, referring to the Khmer Rouge's murderous four-year rule during which an estimated 1.7 million people died.
It is thought that some five million people had gathered in Phnom Penh for the water festival that takes place every year for three days of boat races, food, concerts and celebrations.
Editor: Manasi Gopalakrishnan