Seven people, including three children, died from lack of oxygen after desperately trying to retrieve 3,000 riel (U.S. $0.75) in bills from a well in rural Cambodia, authorities said Monday.
The incident occurred Saturday when an 11-year-old boy climbed into the 5-meter (16-foot) well in Siem Reap province’s Banteay Srey district while attempting to find the money which his father had dropped earlier that day, according to Muy Norn, the district’s acting police chief.
The boy passed out from a lack of oxygen in the well, and when his two elder sisters—aged 13 and 15—tried to help him, they too were stricken, he said.
Four adult neighbors also died while trying to assist the children, while eight others were rescued.
“The water was shallow, but they were killed because there was no oxygen,” Muy Norn said.
“We are very saddened by this event—this is the first tragic incident that has happened in the community,” he said.
He said the boy’s father Tuy Chen, who makes charcoal for a living, was “poor” and that his family could not afford to lose the money.
According to the World Bank, some 20 percent of Cambodia’s nearly 15 million population live in poverty, earning below U.S. $2.00 per day.
Muy Norn said that Tuy Chen had been retrieving water from the well on Saturday morning to use in making his charcoal when he lost the money and a lighter. He had used a ladder to enter the well, but was only able to find his lighter, so he returned home to tell his 13 children that the money was gone.
At 5:00 p.m., his youngest son went to the site and entered the well via the ladder, which had been left there, he said.
Ban on entering wells
Muy Norn said that the villagers had been unaware of the lack of oxygen in the depths of the well and that local authorities have now instituted a ban on entering them.
“Our police officers have advised villagers not to go inside the wells after experiencing this incident. We have warned them to be careful,” he said.
Muy Norn added that the bodies of the seven dead had been cremated on Sunday.
Che Chhan, an older sister of the three siblings, called the incident a “tragedy” that could have been avoided, according to a report by Agence France-Presse.
“Seven people died because of 3,000 riel,” she told AFP.
In a report by the Associated Press, Che Chhan said her youngest brother “thought the amount of money was huge for poor people like us.”
Reported by Samean Yun for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.