At least 60 people died and at least dozens were injured in Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s commercial capital, as crowds stampeded overnight during celebratory New Year’s fireworks, Ivory Coast rescue workers said Tuesday.
The head of military rescue workers, Lieutenant Colonel Issa Sako, told public television that “60 people” died and 200 were injured based on a preliminary toll. Another rescue official said told AFP the toll is “61 dead and 48 injured.”
The rescue official said the injured had been taken to hospitals in Abidjan. An AFP journalist saw many injured children.
The flow of people coming to the entrance of the city’s main stadium to watch the fireworks caused a “very large crush”, Sako said. “In the crush, people were walked over and suffocated by the crowd.”
Images broadcast by RTI television showed bodies stretched lifeless on the ground. Piles of abandoned shoes and clothing could also be seen at the stadium, where soldiers and police were deployed.
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 neighbourhood 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 3,000 people.
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.