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Wednesday, 24 November 2010 15:15

Cambodia Tragedy

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Many of you already heard about the disaster that happened in Cambodia Monday night during the annual Water Festival and wrote to learn if we were okay. We were in Laos and didn't hear about it until Tuesday morning. The news was shocking, nearly 400 (mostly young people in their teens and twenties) died and twice as many were injured. The tragedy took place on the last evening of the festival after a concert on a small newly developed island in the Mekong River about a mile from where we live. There were thousands crowded on the island and only one narrow bridge. For some reason, panic erupted and everyone tried to get off the bridge at once. As far as we can tell, most died from suffocation and internal injuries but there is also speculation others died from electrocution and drowning. The bridge was festooned with lights for the festival and some people grabbed on to the wires in an attempt to get off the bridge.
Cambodian police officers stand near the barricade set up at a bridge where people stampeded during a water festival in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010.
Cambodian police officers stand near the barricade set up at a bridge where people stampeded during a water festival in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010. (AP Sakchai Lalit)

Disasters happen all over the world everyday, but when you know a place so well it takes on a terrible reality. We saw a photo in the Vietnam Times on the flight home this morning of the empty bridge littered with shoes, clothing and other possessions. It is all so tragic, shocking and heartbreaking.

The Water Festival is one of the most joyous celebrations in Cambodia and there is a wonderful spirit of unity. Millions of people flood into Phnom Penh from the countryside to watch three days of boat races and fireworks. The stampede is one of the worst tragedies to occur in Cambodia in years. Maryknoll postponed the Thanksgiving dinner celebration in order to participate in the national day of mourning Thursday. We'll celebrate Thanksgiving on Friday.


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