Thousands of Cambodians celebrating a water festival on an island in a river in the capital stampeded Monday night, leaving at least 190 people dead and the area littered with hundreds of injured. As the panic grew, the crowd tried to flee over a bridge, and many fell over its sides into the water.
Ambulances raced back and forth between the river and the hospitals for several hours after the stampede, while onlookers and relatives waited outside the medical facilities. Many of the injured appeared to be badly hurt, raising the prospect that the death toll could rise sharply as local hospitals could easily become overwhelmed.
Hours after the chaos, hundreds of shoes still lay on the bridge over the Tonle Sap river and the area underneath. Searchers looked for bodies of anyone who might have drowned, and an AP reporter saw one body floating in the river.
Prime Minister Hun Sen made two live television broadcasts after midnight, giving a preliminary death toll of 181 that he later increased to 190. The website of the newspaper Kampuchea Thmey cited Gen. Sao Sokha, chief of the military police, as saying the death toll could be close to 300, according to information from four hospitals to which bodies were taken.
Authorities had estimated that upward of 2 million people would descend on Phnom Penh for the three-day water festival, which marks the end of the rainy season and whose main attraction is traditional boat races along the river.
The last race ended early Monday evening, the last night of the holiday, and the panic started later on Koh Pich -- Diamond Island -- a long spit of land wedged in a fork in the river where a concert was being held. It was unclear how many people were on the island to celebrate the holiday, though the area appeared to be packed with people, as were the banks.
Soft drink vendor So Cheata said the trouble began when about 10 people fell unconscious in the press of the crowd. She said that set off a panic, which then turned into a stampede, with many people caught underfoot.
Information Minister Khieu Kanharith gave a similar account of the cause.
Seeking to escape the island, part of the crowd pushed onto a bridge, which also jammed up, with people falling under others and into the water. So Cheata said hundreds of hurt people lay on the ground afterward. Some appeared to be unconscious.
Cambodia is one of the region's poorer countries, and has an underdeveloped health system, with hospitals barely able to cope with daily medical demands.
Koh Pich used to host a slum community, but in recent years the poor have been evicted to make way for high-rise and commercial development, most yet to be realized.