Amid Safety Risks After Riverbank Collapse, Families Move Out

Ten families living along the Tonle Sap river in Phnom Penh have fled their homes out of concern for their safety after a section of the riverbank collapsed on Sunday, causing five stilt houses to fall into the water.

Residents of the riverside community in Russei Keo district’s Kilometr Pram Muoy commune blame the collapse on Vattanac, a local conglomerate with holdings in real estate that had been doing compacting work at a neighboring property 10 days beforehand.

A resident of Phnom Penh's Russei Keo district looks out Thursday at houses that collapsed into the Tonle Sap river on Sunday. (Matt Walker)
A resident of Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district looks out Thursday at houses that collapsed into the Tonle Sap river on Sunday. (Matt Walker)

Nine houses remain along the 20-meter-long section of riverbank that gave way on Sunday, and all were left with cracks in their cement floors. The 10 families that had been living in them have sought shelter about 100 meters away in the same area as the families who lost their homes Sunday.

“I collected everything and moved out on Monday because if I stay, my family will die,” said Sok Chan, 40, adding that he intended to seek compensation from Vattanac.

Sim Pheap, 36, said that she left her home on Tuesday.

“I can’t stay longer,” she said. “It’s dangerous because I have two small kids that usually stay in the house.”

Ms. Pheap said that she and her neighbors had permission from local authorities to live along the riverbank and therefore deserved redress.

“We should have the right to receive compensation. We need the company to find another house for us,” she said.

However, district governor Thuy Sokhan said he would not ask Vattanac to compensate the villagers because the cause of the collapse was still unclear.

“How can I ask the company to stop the work if we don’t know the cause of the collapse?” he said. “We can’t do much more about it; we will let both sides sort out the compensation by themselves.”

Pressed further, the governor then contradicted himself, saying the riverbank gave way due to natural forces. “It was a natural disaster, and it has happened in the past,” he said.

Yet Mr. Chan said Sunday’s collapse was the first of its kind since he moved to the area 10 years ago.

“Why did it happen at the same time the construction started?” he said.

Representatives of Vattanac did not respond to multiple requests for comment and could not be reached Thursday.

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