Saturday 24 March 2018

Stampede survivors blame barricades

The belongings of people that were involved in a stampede on the ground in Abidjan, Ivory Coast (AP/Emanuel Ekra)
The belongings of people that were involved in a stampede on the ground in Abidjan, Ivory Coast (AP/Emanuel Ekra)

Survivors of a stampede in Ivory Coast that killed 61 people, most of them children and teenagers, after a New Year's Eve fireworks display said makeshift barricades stopped them from moving along a main boulevard, causing the crush of people.

Police said unknown people put tree trunks across the Boulevard de la Republique where the trampling took place.

"For security, because there were so many important people at the event, we closed certain main streets," said a police officer who was overheard briefing Ivory Coast president Alassane Outtara on the incident.

The officer said the tree trunks were put out unofficially by people who are not known.

"After the fireworks we reopened the other streets, but we had not yet removed the tree trunks from the Boulevard de la Republique, in front of the Hotel Tiana near the National Assembly (parliament) building," she said. "That is where the stampede happened when people flooded in from the other streets."

Mr Ouattara ordered three days of national mourning and launched an investigation into the causes of the tragedy.

Two survivors indicated why so many died in what would normally be an open area.

An estimated 50,000 people had gathered near the Felix Houphouet Boigny Stadium and elsewhere in Abidjan's Plateau district to watch the fireworks. As they streamed away from the show some encountered the blockades.

"Near the Justice Palace we were stopped by some people who put blockades of wood in the street," 33-year-old Zoure Sanate said from her bed in Cocody Hospital. "They told us we must stay in the Plateau area until morning. None of us accepted to stay in Plateau until the morning for a celebration that ended at around 1am. Then came the stampede of people behind us. My four children and I were knocked to the ground. I was hearing my kids calling me, but I was powerless and fighting against death. Two of my kids are in hospital with me, but two others are missing. They cannot be found."

Newspapers are speculating that thieves put up the roadblocks so pickpockets could steal money and mobile phones from the packed-in people.

Press Association

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