Home > Water Festival Stampede 2010 > Cambodian anger over stampede management

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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