PHNOM PENH—Residents in a crowded area of the Cambodian capital were scrambling Tuesday to account for relatives and salvage what they could after a 50-meter bank of the Tonle Sap River slid into the water, leaving some 300 people homeless and an unknown number missing.
Phnom Penh Police Commissioner General Touch Naroth said 500 to 600 officers had been mobilized to rescue the victims from landslide at Reussey Keo. The area of the landslide was roughly 60 meters long and 30 meters wide, and it took some 38 houses with it, Touch Naroth said. Another senior official, Phnom Penh City Governor Kep Chutema, said city authorities were on standby in case of further landslides.
“We're not sure yet” how many people might have been submerged as well, he said. “But we picked up five children from the water and told people to collect their family members and review and count themselves. Now they are collecting their belongings.”
Chim Savuth, a human rights officer with the nongovernmental group AdHoc, said residents believed the landslide was caused by sand-dredging, although the Phnom Penh mayor, Kep Chutema, rejected that theory. “Last year it tumbled once and we told them not to stay in the area, but they never listen to us...the place was not safe,” Kep Chutema said.
Forty-eight homes belonging to 58 families were lost, Chim Savuth said, 10 more than the police reported. “Right now the competent authorities are searching for people. We’re unsure how many disappeared because it’s chaotic, but some people with minor injuries have been evacuated,” he said.'We lost everything'
Victims described watching the riverbank break off in chunks and slide into the water before they could retrieve anything from their homes.
“My house had cracks about a week ago but we filled them up. Now three days later it just collapsed. It completely disappeared. Nothing was left standing,” Mrs. Seng Heng, 36, said. “We have lost a lot—we’ve been working in our business for a long time. Nothing is left.”
Mrs. Meas Yang, also 36, cried as she described her loss. “It was U.S. $700-800…Not much, but we are poor, and we have only this house. When it collapsed we lost everything. My child, too, is completely bereft… I am just a vegetable vendor at the market.”
Kouk Sleh, deputy governor of Russei Kev district, went to inspect the affected site, saying the top priority was to aid and evacuate people from the area. “As of now we have not yet received much information. We ordered our men and village chiefs to take a census by asking each family whether anyone was missing,” he said.
“Some of the families weren’t sure whether their children were missing or out playing elsewhere,” he said. “They’re still worrying about the loss of their belongings, which made it difficult for us to talk to them.”Emergency relief
“For the time being, we are continuing to investigate, and we will know soon who’s missing and so on. This is the first time that we’ve had this kind of accident, but we can say that this happened from a natural cause. No one did anything—it just happened.”
Phnom Penh municipal authorities have also distributed emergency food to the afflicted people.
Phnom Penh City Governor Kep Chutema said that initial relief for the victims include 50 kg of rice, 100,000 riel or about U.S. $25, a mat, and other supplies.
“City Hall is assigning officials to be on standby tonight because there could be further collapses. Worse, there is a gridlock on National Route 5, which could cause traffic accidents,” Kep Chutema said. “We’re still working on solutions for the citizens who are affected by this river bank erosion.”
Medical teams have also been posted to help treat the afflicted people, he said.Original reporting by RFA's Khmer service. Khmer service director: Sos Kem. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.