People were frantically removing the ashes of loved ones from stupas along the riverbank in Veal Sbov commune in Phnom Penh yesterday after five were damaged by riverbank collapses.
Commune chief Yon Sophal said that on Saturday a riverbank collapsed near Kdey Takoy pagoda in Kdey Takoy village.
Ms Sophal said that before the collapse, heavy rains slammed the area and likely speeded up erosion. However, villagers are blaming sand dredging, she noted.
“Villagers said the collapse happened due to sand dredging, but this is not the case. We don’t know why the riverbank collapsed,” Ms Sophal said. “There were no victims, but some stupas along the river were damaged. We are contacting the owners to take the ashes of loved ones stored within.”
Chbar Ampov district Governor Cheng Monira said action is being taken to avoid further collapses along the river.
“Authorities delivered some sandbags to the scene to prevent more collapses,” he said.
Venerable Set Seng, a monk at the pagoda, said the stupas were built by relatives of the deceased.
“Most of families who have ashes of loved ones at the pagoda do not live near here,” he said. “The pagoda is trying to contact them so that they can come and take the ashes out. We are afraid the ashes will be lost to the river.”
Ven Seng said relatives prefer to build stupas near a river because they believe it brings them good fortune.
“They think keeping ashes of loved ones near a river brings happiness,” he said.
Nhen Sokha, 46, who was keeping ashes of a relative at the pagoda, said he came to take the ashes to a safe place after being notified by local authorities.
“I kept my family’s ashes there for one year already,” she said. “We are afraid the ashes will fall into the river. We are afraid our ancestors will be angry at us, so we hurried to bring them out. Now we brought them home temporarily, and will bring them back once the pagoda tells us it is safe.”
Yang Rithy, 27, who also had ashes of relatives at the pagoda, said that some people spent thousands of dollars on the stupas along the riverbank because they believe the placement will bring happiness to their deceased loved ones.
“When I heard about it, I hurried to the pagoda fearing losing the ashes of our relatives,” Mr Rithy said. “People like keeping ashes in pagodas and near rivers.”
Pin Sokhoeun, 35, a villager who lives nearby the pagoda, said that most of the stupas were built about one year ago after the pagoda expanded its area by dumping sand and soil at the back of its property.
“The riverbank is kind of new, it was completed after people began wanting to build stupas next to the river,” Ms Sokhoeun said. “I lived there for many years, we saw people on boats running sand dredging there.”
Sok Heng, another villager who lives nearby, said it came as a shock when the riverbank collapsed.
“This riverbank faced collapse every year – it was surprising to have heard it actually collapsed and damaged stupas,” Ms Heng said. “It is tradition to keep loved one’s ashes along the river.”
Yos Monirath, spokesman for the Ministry of Mines and Energy, could not be reach for comment yesterday.
Last week, Mines and Energy Ministry officials and provincial authorities held a public forum with residents living in Kampong Cham province’s Kang Meas and Srey Santhor districts in order to address their concerns over riverbank collapses.
Kampong Cham Governor Kouch Chamroeun said that the forum was held after residents complained that sand dredging along the Mekong river in both districts is making people fear for the safety of their homes.
Meanwhile, on Saturday Kampot province’s Disaster Management Committee announced the opening of the Kamchay hydroelectric dam’s floodgates in order to discharge rain water.
Provincial officials said excess water is to be discharged and that people living along Prek Kampong Bay are being warned.
The provincial DMC said people living in affected areas should be evacuated and urged residents to keep safety in mind as potential accidents can occur.
Provincial Governor Chea Tao told residents not to worry.
“Due to heavy rain, the amount of water being stored increased, but it’s non-threatening,” Mr Tao said.