At least 60 people have died and 49 more were injured by stampeding crowds during New Year’s fireworks in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, Interior Minister Hamed Bakayoko said Tuesday.
The government says 60 people had died, with an average age of 18. Earlier, Lt. Col. Issa Sako told local media that over 200 were injured.
Over 50,000 people gathered outside city’s main stadium to watch the fireworks. The flow of people to its entrance caused a “very large crush“, Sako said. “In the crush, people were walked over and suffocated by the crowd.”
The stampede occurred around 2 a.m. Tuesday near a stadium in downtown Abidjan, where people had gathered for a concert and a fireworks show. The cause of the violence remains unclear, but a police source said that the crush occurred when two streams of spectators going in opposite directions crossed paths.
Many children aged 8-15 were among the victims of the incident, the official AIP news agency said. They mostly come from Abidjan.
“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?” Assetou Toure, a cleaner, told Reuters. Toure did not know if her children were alive or unharmed, she said.
Another woman who had taken two children to the show was rescued from the stampeding crowd by a young man after she was knocked unconscious. “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 told Agence France Presse.
She said she “hurt all over” after the incident, and found one of her kids in the hospital, dazed and scared.
On Tuesday morning, government officials and rescue and security forces were still stationed outside Felix Houphouet Boigny Stadium, in the city’s business district. The area was reportedly covered with bloodstains and littered with abandoned shoes and clothing.
Abidjan, on Cote d’Ivoire’s southeast coast, is the country’s largest city and its former capital. Once a stable economic hub for West Africa, Ivory Coast is struggling to recover from a civil war which saw over 3,000 fatalities in 2011. The New Year’s fireworks, displayed in Abidjan for the second time, were set to symbolize the nation’s renewal after the crisis.