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61 die in Cote d'Ivoire's New Year celebration stampede

By The Citizen
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While the rest of the world entered the New Year with joy, it was not the case in Cote d'Ivoire Tuesday as no fewer than 61 people were reportedly killed and dozens more were injured in Abidjan, the capital.

This occurred as crowds that had gathered for celebratory New Year's fireworks stampeded overnight.

Agency reports claimed that children were among the dead and the injured, while images broadcast by RTI television showed bodies stretched lifeless on the ground outside the city's main stadium.

Piles of abandoned shoes and clothing could also be seen at the stadium, where soldiers and police were deployed, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported.

Besides, in South Africa, several unrelated fires ripped through informal settlements in Cape Town, killing about three people and leaving at least 4,000 homeless on New Year's Day.

But the head of Cote d'Ivoire's military rescue workers, Lt.-Col. Issa Sako, told journalists at the scene that 61 people died.

'Forty-nine wounded were evacuated' by rescue workers, he added. He said other injured victims had gone to hospital on their own.

Another rescue official had earlier said that about 200 people were wounded.

The flow of people at the stadium had caused a 'very large crush', Sako said. 'In the crush, people were walked over and suffocated by the crowd.'

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 an 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.

In respect of Cape Town fires, City Disaster Management Official, Wilfred Solomons-Johannes, said: 'The cause of these fires has not been established, however it is alleged that they were caused by negligence by persons under the influence of alcohol.'

Authorities battled to put out the blazes that ravaged homes in the township of Du Noon and various sections of the notorious Khayelitsha slum late Monday and early Tuesday.

Fire and rescue services - including a helicopter - as well as emergency medical services and law enforcement agencies were deployed in the scenes.

But they could not prevent the blaze spreading and destroying hundreds of shacks and houses, cutting electricity and forcing the closure of major nearby roads.

'The gusting wind… has fuelled the spread of these fires that made it challenging for firefighters to effect fire suppression,' said Solomons-Johannes.

Disaster management teams supplied food parcels, blankets, baby packs, clothing and building material and trauma counselling to victims.

Cape Town authorities encouraged residents to take care with open flames when using electrical devices.

The use of gas burners, candles, lamps and paraffin stoves is common in poor areas throughout South Africa.