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New Year Eve Horror: 60 crushed to death in Ivory Coast stampede

New Year Eve Horror:

60 crushed to death in Ivory Coast stampede

 

(Abidjan, IVORY COAST) - About 60 people were crushed to death and dozens more were injured in the Ivory Coast as crowds that had gathered for celebratory New Year's fireworks stampeded overnight outside a stadium in Ivory Coast's main city of Abidjan after the fireworks display, the government said on Tuesday.  The incident took place near Felix Houphouet Boigny Stadium where a crowd had gathered to watch fireworks, emergency officials said.

People stand next to clothing and various items spread over the pavement at the scene of a deadly stampede in Abidjan. Picture: Herve Sevi Source: AFP

An AFP journalist saw many injured children, while images broadcast by RTI television showed bodies stretched lifeless on the ground outside Abidjan's main stadium. Piles of abandoned shoes and clothing could also be seen at the stadium, where soldiers and police were deployed.

 

The head of military rescue workers, Lieutenant Colonel Issa Sako, told journalists at the scene that 61 people had died.

 

"Forty-nine wounded were evacuated" by rescue workers, he added, saying other injured victims had gone to hospital on their own. Another rescue official had earlier said that at least 200 people were wounded.

 

The flow of people at the stadium had caused a "very large crush", Lt-Col Sako said. "In the crush, people were walked over and suffocated by the crowd."

 

One of the injured, speaking to Reuters at a hospital, said security forces had arrived to break up the crowd, triggering a panic in which many people fell over and were trampled.

 

"The provisional death toll is 60 and there are 49 injured," Interior Minister Hamed Bakayoko said in a statement broadcast on national television.

 

Witnesses said the stampede had broken out after the fireworks ended, though the cause remains unclear. It erupted near the stadium's main entrance, where security had set up tree trunks as crowd control barriers.

 

Visibly shaken children were among the roughly 40 wounded taken to a hospital in the wealthy neighborhood of Cocody, in the north of the economic capital. A mother named Zeinab who had taken two of her children to the stadium found one of them in the hospital, a small boy who lay on a bed in a groggy state. Zeinab said she "hurt all over" and showed a journalist the scratches on her body.

 

"I don't know what happened but I found myself lying on the ground with people stepping on me, pulling my hair or tearing my clothes," she said.

She said she had been knocked unconscious and been pulled from the crowd by a young man.

 

The New Year's fireworks, the city's second in two years, had been touted as a symbol of national renewal under President Alassane Ouattara after the violent post-election crisis that tore the country apart from December 2010 to April 2011, killing some 3000 people. Mr Ouattara had delivered an optimistic New Year's message on Monday evening, saying the country had "possibilities like seldom before" ahead of it and promising it would soon reap the rewards of economic growth and development.

 

President Alassane Ouattara, visiting injured people at the hospital, called the incident a national tragedy and said an investigation was underway to determine what happened. A Reuters correspondent said blood stains and abandoned shoes littered the scene outside the stadium on Tuesday morning.

 

"My two children came here yesterday. I told them not to come but they didn't listen. They came when I was sleeping. What will I do?" said Assetou Toure, a cleaner.

 

>She did not know if her children had escaped unhurt.

 

The incident was the worst of its kind in Abidjan since 2010, when a stampede at a stadium during a football match killed 18 people. Ivory Coast, once a stable economic hub for West Africa, is struggling to recover from a 2011 civil war in which more than 3,000 people were killed.