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Cambodians turn out to honor the dead

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Cambodia mourns stampede victims
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Ceremony at the site of the stampede honors the dead
  • A footbridge began swaying and caused people to think it would collapse, probe finds
  • Police fired water cannons to get people to continue moving across the bridge
  • The victims were attending a three-day water festival

Phnom Pehn, Cambodia (CNN) -- Hundreds of somber-faced Cambodians assembled Thursday morning in front of the suspension bridge in the capital where hundreds of people died Monday in a stampede during a festival.

Some carried flowers, others lit candles and incense in honor of the dead in the ceremony early Thursday, which the government has declared a day of mourning.

Government investigators said Wednesday that the bridge swayed as thousands of people attempted to cross it Monday night. That apparently led to fears it would collapse, resulting in the stampede, which killed 456 people at the Water Festival, the investigators said. Another 800 people were injured.

The investigators' initial findings were aired on state-run Bayon television.

Police fired water cannons to get people to continue moving across the footbridge, which leads to an island in the center of a river.

What caused panic on suspension bridge?
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  • Cambodia

"That just caused complete and utter panic," Steve Finch of the Phnom Penh Post newspaper told CNN.

The government said it would help to transport the bodies of the dead and pay 5 million riel ($1,230) to the family of each of the deceased.

Most of the bodies have been taken to their home provinces.

Funerals and memorial services were held Wednesday throughout the country, though some families said they still had not learned the fate of their loved ones.

The three-day festival, which began Saturday, is held each November to honor a victory by Cambodian naval forces during the 12th century reign of King Jayavarman VII, according to the country's tourism website.

During the festival, which includes boat races, participants pray for a good rice harvest and enough rain, and celebrate the full moon, the site says.

Visalsok Nou, a Cambodian Embassy official in Washington, said more than 4 million people were attending the Water Festival when the stampede occurred. The country has set up a commission to look into the incident.

Journalist Sebastian Strangio contributed to this story from Phnom Penh