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Cambodian anger over stampede management

Bodies stack on bodies on  22 November 2010
ELIZABETH JACKSON:
Cambodia is still coming to terms with the deaths of hundreds of people
killed in a stampede on Monday at Phnom Penh’s annual Water Festival.
Most of the bodies have been identified and some funerals have been
held, but anger over the management of the event and the lack of
control over the huge crowd has grown.

Here’s our South-East Asia correspondent Zoe Daniel.

ZOE DANIEL: Cambodian people are extraordinarily
resilient, possibly as a result of the country’s horrific past. But
Monday’s stampede shocked the nation, the mass death a grim reminder of
the dark days of the Khmer Rouge and an image that Cambodia is trying
desperately to shake.

Outside hospitals across the city the confusion and devastation was raw as people searched for the missing and found the dead.

(Sounds of anguished people)

Hundreds lay in makeshift morgues and hundreds more laid inside
hospital rooms, battered and bruised but alive. Fifteen-year-old Moeum
told me through a translator that he was pinned under a pile of bodies
for two hours before he was pulled out by rescuers.

(Moeum speaking)

TRANSLATOR: He says it was too crowded, there was no
space to move at all. People just getting closer and closer until they,
none of them could move.

ZOE DANIEL: Paul Hurford is an Australian fireman who
runs an NGO in Phnom Penh to help train and advise Cambodian
authorities on the management of disasters. He and his team from
Australian Firefighters International Relief and Education were on the
scene with local rescue workers after the stampede.

PAUL HURFORD: The scene was fairly well organised at
the time that we arrived, the police had established a secure area for
the casualties and were holding the general public out. As it was
concerns of so many people within the area.

The ambulance system was working quite well, transporting people to and
from, to the hospitals and keeping the people flowing from the site
where there wasn’t many resources. But there was still a lot of
casualties and it wasn’t a very pretty sight.

ZOE DANIEL: The scene was horrific – hundreds dead from suffocation and crush injuries and others drowned in the river.

PAUL HURFORD: Personally I found it quite challenging,
it’s, it was a very large incident and as we see now we’ve got over
345 fatalities from the event and another 300-plus people seriously
injured.

So, I mean, in any scale, whether we’re here in Cambodia or in a
developed country in a big city, it’s still a major incident and still
quite challenging for anyone to deal with.

ZOE DANIEL: Dr Tim Keenan is an orthopaedic surgeon
from Perth who frequently travels to Cambodia to assist with the
Australian Orthopaedic Association’s outreach program. He was working
in the Kossamak Hospital – one of the places where the dead were
brought for identification and the injured were brought for treatment.

DR TIM KEENAN: The people were intertwined and jammed
into each other for a number of hours on the bridge and there was really
no broken bones but there was what we call these crush injuries where
your limbs get sort of under pressure for some period of time and they
you get what’s called a compartment syndrome where the muscle builds up
a lot of pressure and stops the circulation and the sensation to that
limb.

ZOE DANIEL: Television footage showed desperate rescuers pulling those who were still alive out of the crush of bodies.

Dr Keenan says the way they were extracted was understandable but not ideal.

DR TIM KEENAN: They’re not really skilled or rehearsed
at disaster management so a lot of these people were being extracted
under quite difficult circumstances and probably the way they were
extracted wasn’t the correct way to do it.

But still, that’s in the circumstances, people extract people the best
way they can and then they’re brought by an ambulance which isn’t
really what we would consider an ambulance, without any oxygen or
facilities.

One of the big problems in Phnom Penh and the hospital is that the
intensive care facilities are very primitive and the staff are not
trained in the management of these involved cases so sadly a lot of
patients who perhaps in the western situation may have been managed
better cannot be managed at that high level here in Phnom Penh.

ZOE DANIEL: The first funerals have been held for the
dead, but they haven’t given closure to relatives who want to know why
crowd control wasn’t better. Three million people came to Phnom Penh
for the Water Festival, yet the government admits it overlooked the
potential for this kind of incident.

Early police investigations indicate that the overloaded bridge was shaking and that probably triggered the stampede.

This is Zoe Daniel reporting for Correspondents Report. ABC News

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