Red Cross: 24 die in Nigeria's stampede tragedy

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At least 24 people died during a stampede at an overcrowded church gathering in eastern Nigeria, the Red Cross said on Sunday.

Nineteen women were amongst the dead at the stampede in the Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Uke, Anambra state at dawn on Saturday, where around 100,000 worshippers had gathered for All Souls Day, Red Cross spokesman Peter Kachi said by telephone.

“There were too many people and the place was so overcrowded,” Osmond Okoli, who narrowly survived being squashed in the crowd, told Channels TV.

“We were too compacted so people fell and they were being pushed on us and then we all began to shout from the ground.”

The Anambra state government had put the death toll at 17.

Dr. Peter Katchy of the local Red Cross chapter said they had a mobile clinic and small emergency station posted at the grounds because more than 100,000 people had gathered for very popular healing sessions by a local priest.

“There was a stampede, everybody said they heard someone crying ‘Fire! Fire!’ and in that stampeding some people were suffocated: 24 persons died there, five males, 19 females,” Katchy told The Associated Press. He said another 17 casualties were hospitalised.

Katchy blamed “an over-large crowd and lack of crowd control.”

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Newspaper and TV reports blamed politicking for the Nov. 16 elections.

They quoted witnesses as saying the false warning of a fire was made to try to end a speech being made by Gov. Peter Obi, who attended the crusade and was booed as he tried to promote his gubernatorial candidate.

Obi said he left long before the stampede. “I did notice something unusual,” he told reporters in comments broadcast on Channels Television.

“When I wanted to speak, a group of people started shouting somebody’s name. I had to curtail them and say we are here to worship. … At the time I left everything was normal, there was no incident.”

The name being shouted was that of a rival for the governorship, Sen. Chris Ngige, witnesses said on the TV.

Some said Obi’s bodyguards charged into the part of the crowd from which the catcalls had ensued, causing the stampede when someone shouted there were armed men attacking them.

Other witnesses said the way out was blocked by protesters chanting slogans against Obi and in support of Ngige.

Emmanuel Kachi Udeoji, the police DIG for the zone, said he could not understand how a stampede occurred when the vigil was out in the open, “there are no restraints here, there are no fences, nothing,” he said on the TV, promising a full investigation.