Koh Pich: A Painful Lesson for Us All

At night time on the third and last day of the annual water festival; the most popular event, especially among rural people, there was a tragedy happened on the Diamond (Pich) Bridge, which is connecting the Diamond (Pich) Island with mainland Phnom Penh. The tragic incident took place for about an hour, starting from 09:30 pm. Such event, Cambodia has never, ever experienced before since the country started the water festival since the seventh century. When the accident took place, I and my family members were staying on our farm, about three hundred forty km from Phnom Penh. We usually went out of Phnom Penh during water festivals. When we stayed in Phnom Penh, we did rarely go out to visit the river front since it is very crowded. On our farm, we did not have proper access to TV and internet. My mobile phone was on, but it seems too late for our relatives or friends to alert us. We got the news the next day, in the very early morning. I, firstly, did not believe it. Because we have been experiencing many, many rumors during war-time and up to now; mainly false information. After several phone calls to check with friends and relatives, it turned out to be a true and tragic story.

Norodom Sihanouk

Condolence Letter from Norodom Sihanouk

The toll has been heavy: around 350 people died and about 400 injured. Unbelievable! Many questions came to my mind: why could this happen? What are the main reasons behind? How could be many people killed and injured at the same time? Where are the police? Who is responsible for all the death? The government, the police, the national events organizer? or the victims themselves?

Later on, many people refer to the reason that someone or group of young people were shouting that the bridge is fallen. There were thousands of people crowded on the small and narrow bridge. The hanging bridge is 100 meter long and 7.16 meter wide. According to the first unofficial report of the investigating committee there were 9-12 people on a square meter. It means around 7,000 people (or 350-400 tons of weight) were crowed on the bridge. The crowed went into panic situation by trying to go back or forth to escape from the bridge. The bridge was mainly served as exit way for people coming out of the Island. But, due to many people forcing its way to get into the Island and there were not enough police officers to control and mange the crow, the situation went out of hand. Some people (around 100) sprung into the river. Nobody could then control the situation. Many people were stamped to death and injured. According to some sources, there were 3-4 million people came to Phnom Penh to witness this joyful event this year. 420 boats were on the race. Every year, it was a very big national event and many people, especially rural people fluxed into the city river front.

Since yesterday, TVs stations, newspapers, NGOs, people associations, governments agencies; have announced social initiatives to raise fund to support the victims and their families. Hundreds of thousands of USD and thousands of millions of Cambodian Riel were donated and collected. The gift and the money were distributed directly to victims. This is a positive side of the tragedy that Cambodian people are showing their genuine moral and financial support to their fellow Cambodians. While I am writing this article now, there are still live broadcast in CTN and Bayon TV of people who come to donate money at the stations or sending via phone or bank account etc. Amazing feeling, though all these money and gift could not restore the life of our brothers and sisters, we are happy to see Cambodians stick together for common purpose.

The government’s actions to help the victims have been effective. At the beginning it was slow, but once they reached the hospitals, the victims got free treatment and other necessary support. The deaths were transported by army’s truck to their home villages. The family of the death received 5 million Riel or 1,250 USD from the government, 200 USD from King-Father, 200 USD from the King, 1,000 USD from the OCIC (Oversea’s Cambodians Investments corporation) and other donations. The family of the injured persons receive one million Riel or 250 USD, 100 USD each from the King and King-Father, 200 USD from OCIC and other donations. These donations would help to release the burden of the victim’s family, though the deep sorrow feeling and the tragic lost of their love one could not be restored.

What should/could we learn from this very tragic event? How should we take actions to avoid such an accident to happen again? Here are some points that came to my mind:

  • Event organizers (The National committee for Organizing National and International Festivals, the Municipality, National Police, Ministry of Health etc.) should think of every detail including emergency exits.
  • Police should be compensated properly during this event so that corrupt practices could be avoided which would affect the smoothness of the event.
  • The Ministry of Health should prepare emergency counters at many crossroads as possible, especially along the river front, where many people assemble.
  • Ambulance facilities, including helicopter services should be made available and stay in standby position.
  • On some streets only one way direction should be allowed.
  • Fire and rescue stations should be on alert during whole event.
  • Radios/TVs and the media should make public announcement concerning necessary safety measures well advance the event.
  • Each individual should restraint from sending wrong, false or joke information in the crowded area, which could cause public panic.
  • People should respect the traffic signs, respect to each other’s right, tolerate each other, help each other in case of need despite the crow, bear more responsibility towards self and others, have higher morality as good citizen of a civilized country. If some people just respect the traffic sign (picture below) and did not use the bridge from the mainland side as gateway onto the island; this incident might not have happned, despite the crowd.

Traffic sign could be seen that prohibit people crossing the bridge from the mainland side

That was painful lesson for us all. Even, the strong PM burst into tears this morning at the official ceremony to mourn for the death victims of this tragic event. May their souls find peaceful rest in heaven. May all Cambodians from all walks of life able to learn the shortcoming and mistake to ensure that such a tragedy would not take place again in the future.

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