A stampede at a church charity event in southern Nigeria on Saturday left 31 people dead and seven injured, police told the Associated Press, a shocking development in an event intended to provide hope to those in need. An eyewitness said a pregnant woman and several children were among the dead.
According to police spokeswoman Grace Iringe-Coco, the stampede occurred at an event organized by the King’s Assembly Pentecostal Church in River State, which was attended by people who attended the church’s annual “Shop for Free” charity event.
Such incidents are common in Africa’s largest economy, Nigeria, where more than 80 million people live in poverty, according to government figures.
Iringe-Coco said Saturday’s charity event was supposed to start at 9 a.m., but dozens arrived at 5 a.m. to secure their places in line. He said that somehow the locked gate was broken, which led to a stampede.
Godwin Tapikor of Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency said first responders were able to bring the bodies of those who had been trampled to the morgue. Security forces have cordoned off the area.
Dozens of residents later arrived at the scene, mourning the dead and offering emergency personnel all possible help. Some of the injured were treated by doctors and emergency personnel lying in the open ground. Videos from the scene showed clothes, shoes and other items made for the beneficiaries.
A witness who identified himself only as Daniels said that among the dead were several children. The five children were from a single mother, he told the Associated Press, adding that a pregnant woman also died.
According to witness Christopher Eze, some members of the church were attacked and injured by relatives of the victims after the stampede. The church declined to comment.
A police spokesman said the seven injured were “responding to treatment.”
The “Shop for Free” event was suspended while officials investigated how the stampede happened.
Nigeria has previously reported similar stampedes.
Twenty-four people died at a crowded church meeting in the southeastern state of Ambara in 2013, while in 2014 at least 16 people were killed when crowds went out of control during a screening for government jobs in the nation’s capital Abuja. .