Ivory Coast stampede survivors blame barricades for deaths

The nation's president has ordered three days of national mourning to commemorate the 61 people killed in Monday night's tragedy.

Emanuel Ekra/AP
An Ivory Coast soldier stands next to the belongings of people involved in a deadly stampede in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Jan. 1 2013. At least 61 people were killed early Tuesday in a stampede following a New Year's fireworks display in Abidjan, Ivory Coast's commercial center, said officials. The death toll is expected to rise, according to rescue workers.

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 Wednesday that barricades stopped them from moving along a main boulevard, causing the crush of people.

Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara ordered three days of national mourning and launched an investigation into the causes of the tragedy but two survivors, in interviews with The Associated Press, indicated why so many died in what would normally be an open area, the Boulevard de la Republic. An estimated 50,000 people had gathered in Abidjan's Plateau district to watch the fireworks. The barricades were described as makeshift.

"Near the Justice Palace we were stopped by some people who built wooden blockades 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 1 a.m.

"Then came the stampede of people behind us," she said. "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."

Another hospital patient, Brahima Compaore, 39, said he also was caught in the pile of people stopped by the roadblock.

"I found myself on the ground and people were walking on me," said Compaore. "I was only saved by people who pulled me onto the sidewalk."

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

Ouattara pledged to get answers. Some observers wondered why police did not prevent the tragedy.

"The investigation must take into account all the testimonies of victims," he said Wednesday. "We will have a crisis center to share and receive information."

Ouattara also postponed the traditional New Year's receptions at his residence, which had been scheduled for Thursday and Friday.

The leader of a human rights organization said that deadly incidents were predictable because the police and civil authorities had not taken adequate protective measures.

"The situation is deplorable," said Thierry Legre, president of the Ivorian League of Human Rights. "It is our first tragedy of 2013 but in 2012 we could already see possibility of such a tragedy because there are not adequate authorities patrolling our roads and waters."

Legre said the New Year's stampede "exposes our weak and dysfunctional civil protection system. This must be corrected immediately. The government cannot invite people to this kind of public gathering without taking adequate precautions to protect their safety and their lives."

He called on the government "to implement measures to avoid such tragedies in the future by reinforcing the civil protection system."

Just one night before the New Year's incident, there had been a big concert at the Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium where American rap star Chris Brown performed. That Sunday night event was for the Kora Awards for African musicians. No serious incidents were reported from that event.

The government organized the fireworks to celebrate Ivory Coast's peace, after several months of political violence in early 2011 following disputed elections.

This is not Ivory Coast's first stadium tragedy. In 2009, 22 people died and over 130 were injured in a stampede at a World Cup qualifying match at the Houphouet Boigny Stadium, prompting FIFA, soccer's global governing body, to impose a fine of tens of thousands of dollars on Ivory Coast's soccer federation. The stadium, which officially holds 35,000, was overcrowded at the time of the disaster.

Another African stadium tragedy occurred on New Year's Eve in Angola where at least 10 people, including four children, died in a stampede during a religious gathering at a sports stadium in Luanda, the capital.

Angop, the Angolan news agency, cited officials as saying Tuesday that 120 people were also injured when tens of thousands of people gathered at the stadium and panic ensued.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.