PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP/The Blaze) — An estimated 339 people died Monday evening in a stampede during the celebration of a water festival in Cambodia's capital city, and hundreds more have reportedly been injured.
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.
A soft drink vendor at the event told the Associated Press the stampede started when 10 people in the crowd fainted, causing others around them to panic and run. As more people tried to get off the island, the large crowd stormed a bridge to the mainland which collapsed and dropped many people into the water below.
Organizers had reportedly expected the festival to draw up to two million attendees, but according to CNN, over 4 million people were in attendance when the stampede took place.
Prime Minister Hun Sen held initial press conference to announce the death toll below 200 before later announcing it had jumped to 339, with 329 injured.
The stampede marks the country's "biggest tragedy" since the Khmer Rouge's reign of terror during the 1970s, he said.
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.
Ambulances raced back and forth between the river and the city's largest hospital for several hours after the stampede, while onlookers and relatives waited outside. The capital's hospitals are struggling to treat all the wounded and overcrowding has forced some patients to be tended to in the hospitals' hallways.
An employee of Calmette Hospital, where most of the casualties were being taken, said earlier that it had received 17 bodies, and an Associated Press reporter later saw an army truck bring another five. The hospital employee spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.