31 children killed in stampede at church fair in Nigeria

Abuja, Nigeria – A stampede at a church charity event in southern Nigeria on Saturday left 31 dead and seven injured, police told the Associated Press, a stunning development in a program aimed at providing hope to those in need. One of the witnesses said that among the dead were a pregnant woman and several children.

The stampede at the event organized by the Pentecostal Church of the Kings Society in Rivers included people who came to the church’s annual “Shopping for Free” charity program, according to Grace Ering Coco, a police spokeswoman.

Such events are common in Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, where more than 80 million people live in poverty, according to government statistics.

The charity program was supposed to start Saturday at 9 a.m., but dozens arrived at 5 a.m. to secure their place in line, according to Iring Coco. Somehow, the closed gate opened, causing a stampede, she said.

Godwin Tibekor of Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency said first responders were able to evacuate the bodies of those who had been trampled to death and brought them to the morgue. Security forces cordoned off the area.

Dozens of residents later crowded the scene, mourning the dead and providing any possible assistance to emergency workers. Doctors and emergency workers treated some of the wounded as they lay in the open field. Videos from the scene showed clothes, shoes and other items destined for the beneficiaries.

“There were a lot of children” among the dead, said one witness, who gave his name only as Daniel. Five of the dead children were from one mother, he told the Associated Press, adding that a pregnant woman also lost her life.

Some church members were attacked and injured by relatives of the victims after the stampede, according to witness Christopher Eze. The church declined to comment on the situation.

A police spokeswoman said the seven injured were “responding to treatment”.

A “free shopping” event has been suspended while authorities investigate how the stampede occurred.

Nigeria has seen a similar stampede in the past.

Twenty-four people were killed at a crowded church gathering in the southeastern state of Anambra in 2013, while at least 16 people were killed in 2014 when a crowd spiraled out of control while checking government jobs in the capital, Abuja.

Associated Press journalist Hilary Ogoro contributed in Warri, Nigeria.

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