News24

Cambodia stampede bridge reopens

2010-12-08 10:31

Phnom Pehn - Buddhist monks prayed for happiness and safety on Wednesday at a ceremony to reopen a bridge in the Cambodian capital where at least 353 revellers were trampled to death last month in a riverside stampede.

The two-lane suspension bridge over the Bassac River had been closed since the November 22 tragedy, when thousands of festival-goers crammed onto it and panicked when it began to sway, setting off the deadly stampede.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has called it the country's biggest tragedy since the communist Khmer Rouge's reign of terror, which killed an estimated 1.7 million people in the late 1970s.

Five chanting monks joined Phnom Penh's governor, Kep Chuktema, and other officials at a sombre event to reopen the bridge for use.

The governor said two more bridges will be built alongside the 100m long bridge to help reduce traffic between the mainland to a small island in the Bassac River, where tens of thousands had flocked for a free concert at the end of a three-day holiday marking the close of the monsoon season.

Preliminary findings by an official investigation committee found that the natural swaying of a suspension bridge ignited fears it would collapse among an estimated 5 000 to 7 000 people on the structure. In frantic efforts to escape, the crowd pressed and heaved, crushing hundreds of people and leading some to dive off the span into the water.

The official casualty toll is 353 dead and 395 injured.

Hun Sen has announced that families of the dead would each be given at least $12 000, an enormous sum in a country where the annual per capita income is just over $700.