Hundreds of inmates were evacuated from Banteay Meanchey provincial prison Thursday afternoon after floodwaters flattened a 20 meter section of the prison wall and burst into prison grounds, leaving many cells under a meter of water.
Prison security on Wednesday night used logs to brace a faltering concrete wall against the rising waters, which have killed at least 104 people and inundated 19 provinces and Phnom Penh over the past few weeks. The wall gave way just after 1 p.m. Thursday, according to Soum Chankea, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc.
“About 500 prisoners are being evacuated to Siem Reap prison and the rest, 344, are being taken to Battambang prison,” Mr. Chankea said, adding that military and provincial police began to load prisoners onto trucks around 3 p.m.
Chea Sothea, Licadho’s prison researcher in Banteay Meanchey, said that prison security kept guard while officials evacuated elderly inmates and women with children.
“When the first truck came, the officers had to guard the broken fence as the police put the women and children on the truck,” she said, adding that no prisoners attempted an escape.
“About 20 meters of the prison wall was broken so there was a large gap,” she said, adding that floods in 2009 had damaged the prison wall.
A recent report by human rights group Adhoc showed that as of May last year, Battambang prison, which has a capacity of 650, held 1,207 inmates, while Siem Reap prison, capacity 1,000, housed 1,236.
On Thursday afternoon, Ran Vanchorn, Licadho’s prison researcher in Battambang province, confirmed that more than 300 [evacuees], including 125 women, were en route to Battambang prison.
“We already have far too many prisoners here, if we add more, it is dangerous to their health,” he said. “The other provinces should cooperate and take a share of these prisoners.”
Nhim Vanda, first vice president of the National Committee for Disaster Management, said that flooding had affected 1.5 million people, leaving 120,000 homes flooded, 25,000 homes evacuated and 250,000 hectares of rice field flooded nationwide.
In Phnom Penh, much of the water that had built up after heavy rain earlier in week has now subsided, but hundreds of families in Sen Sok, Meanchey and Pur Senchey districts were still waiting for the water to drain Thursday.
Doung Chansarath, chief of the drainage and sewage unit within the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation, admitted that the city’s drainage system was in need of attention.
“There is no doubt that we need more drains and to clean the existing drains,” he said. “City Hall does have plans to do that.”
In response to nationwide flooding, the National Assembly released a statement calling for “national and international benefactors to contribute voluntarily to help more than 80,000 Cambodia flood victims because they are suffering and have lost nearly all their properties and crops.”
(Additional reporting by Matt Blomberg)