A Month On, Koh Pich Victims Rally Against Continuing Pain

Four young men have shared a ward in Calmette hospital since being injured during the disaster on the bridge to Koh Pich Island a month ago last night. “We’ve become good friends and help each other when someone suffers from the stampede,” said 25-year-old Chan Chhay Loeun whose legs were crushed.

The roommates stopped laughing and talking together to become quiet when Mr Chhay Loeun recounted the night on the bridge where two friends were among the 353 people killed.

“Maybe I can leave tomorrow because now I feel better than before,” he said, adding that he received about $2,000 in donations while hospitalized, but was not sure of the exact amount.

During the early hours of Nov 22 chaos filled Phnom Penh’s hospitals where dead bodies and more than 400 injured were brought by ambulance from Diamond Island Bridge. Last night, however, the number of stampede victims staying at Calmette hospital had dwindled to about 25.

Chhe Chheng Hor, 21, lying on a bed and still unable to walk, yesterday said that after leaving hospital she plans to keep in touch with the injured girl sharing her room.

During the month in hospital Ms Chheng Hor said that it was helpful to talk with other victims about the disaster. “Recently I still feel scared about what happened during the stampede,” she said, noting that two friends were killed and her injured sister was only discharged from hospital a couple of weeks ago.

Mak Sreymoch, psychologist at the French Red Cross, said only seven victims remained at Preah Kossamak Hospital where the organization supported about two thirds of 145 patients admitted from the bridge.

Patients who left before having time to express their reaction to the tragedy may experience emotional problems or become traumatized in the future, Ms Sreymoch said. “We notice one month after some patients still have nightmares and hallucinations,” she said, noting that some do not want to talk about what happened and others suffer anxiety.

Seang Sarath, 23, sitting on a makeshift bed next to a mat for his mother, said that he could leave yesterday or today after recovering. “I still remember a little bit what happened on the bridge, but I keep trying to forget,” he said.

Following the stampede, money poured in for injured victims and bereaved families who were entitled to claim nearly $13,000 for each dead. Donations included money from the government, Royal Family, the company that operates the bridge and private donations including money given through TV telethons.

Prey Veng province resident Chet Bophy, 48, said that despite receiving $10,000 she still did not know why her 20-year-old daughter Duk Srey Mom died on Nov 22. “I am suspicious that her death was caused by the stampede, which I have never seen. This money cannot make my daughter reborn,” Ms Bophy said. “Until now I still do not know exactly what happened during the stampede that killed so many people.”

Ou Virak, executive director of Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said that preliminary results from its in-depth investigation into the stampede would be ready in about one and a half months.

Witnesses will be used to find out exactly what happened during the incident before an examination of how authorities prepared for the Water Festival, he said. “We want to make sure this never happens again.”

Last month after the government’s investigation into the incident concluded Prime Minister Hun Sen said that nobody should be blamed for an unexpected stampede. However, opposition lawmakers, human rights workers and international crowd control experts said the investigation missed the point that the incident was a failure of planning.

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