The sound of traditional Buddhist funeral music could be heard across Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar commune on Friday, where hundreds of mourners gathered for the funerals of 16 locals who were killed on Thursday when their tour bus plunged from a road in the Dangrek Mountains in Oddar Meanchey province.
The victims were on a pilgrimage to the Taman and Ta Krobei temples in Preah Vihear province to take part in a Choul Voassa ceremony when the bus took a bend at more than 100 kph and careened off the road.
The 23 passengers who survived the crash were also from Prey Sar commune in Dangkao district, but were all too seriously injured to attend the funerals Friday.
Ath Veasna, 34, was overcome with grief after helping to carry the coffins of both his mother and father up the steps of temporary funeral pyres, as monks chanted prayers that would continue until evening, when a flame torch would light the pyre to cremate the bodies.
He said his parents, Kim Sam Ath, 63, and Chhum Sophat, 61, were deeply religious and often went on bus trips to attend ceremonies at temples around the country.
“I was just in shock when I heard my parents had died and I am so sad that they were killed because of a traffic accident,” he said.
Mr. Veasna had called his parents Wednesday evening, reminding them to take medication for high blood pressure and heart problems. At 11 a.m. on Thursday morning, it was his phone that rang.
“I was so upset but when I heard the news I had to leave immediately and by the time I got there, it was about 4:30 p.m.,” he said. “But now, I am just very sad.”
Families of the other victims carried coffins from their homes to the pyres where their loved ones’ bodies would be burned, releasing their spirits into the next life.
Fighting through tears, 45-year-old Ngan Seanny described his mother, Chuon Sem, 66, as a loving person who cared deeply for her children and grandchildren, and had brought his sister and her young daughter along on the trip.
“I am so sad and shocked. I have lost my lovely mother and my sister and her daughter were seriously injured and are still being treated in Siem Reap province,” he said.
Prach Seiha, deputy district governor, said that he and other local officials would visit all the families to donate 300,000 riel, or about $73, to families who lost a relative.
Men Ly, police chief in Oddar Meanchey province, said the 23 injured passengers either remained in Siem Reap provincial referral hospital or had been sent to hospitals in Phnom Penh. He said provincial governor Sar Thavy had also helped the families, giving 1 million riel, or about $243, to those who lost a loved one.