Stampede death toll rises to 375

CAMBODIA searched for answers yesterday, a day after a stampede killed at least 375 people on a suspension bridge where survivors said they were wedged into the crowd of living and dead for hours.

The government launched an investigation into why thousands panicked on the pedestrian bridge connecting Phnom Penh to an island where mostly young people celebrated the last day of a festival marking the end of the rainy season. Survivors recounted scenes of mass suffocation and desperate screams after thousands went into a frenzy to flee the bridge, apparently after shouts went up that some people had been electrocuted.

Police said some also shouted that the bridge was about to collapse.

The victims suffocated or were trampled and some survivors said they were wedged into the crowd for hours. Police sprayed water so survivors could drink. About 755 people were injured.

“People were shouting that someone had been electrocuted, to run back,” said Touch Loch, 18. “I fell and people stepped on me until I passed out. When I woke I was here in hospital.”

Phay Siphan, a government spokesman, denied anyone was electrocuted on the bridge, which was adorned with flashing lights. He said it was designed to sway, but the movement took pedestrians by surprise and some shouted it was broken.

“The cause was panic, not electrocution,” he told reporters who gathered in front of the bridge, which was littered with shoes and clothing left by victims.

Khon Sros, 19, said from her hospital bed some people had leapt off the bridge to escape but she had been pinned in the crowd from her waist down until police pulled her out.

Touch Theara, 38, said she had been stuck in the crowd for three hours: “I thought I was dead... Police sprayed water at us. We were just opening our mouths to drink.”

Prime Minister Hun Sen apologised for the disaster.

He declared tomorrow a day of mourning.

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