(Photo: REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon)
Tragedy has stricken the African continent over New Year's as a number of celebrations ended in disaster, causing the deaths of dozens of people. Stampedes cost the lives of 61 people in the Ivory Coast, and another 16 were left dead in Angola after a large crowd gathered for a prayer vigil organized by a Pentecostal church.
In the Ivory Coast incident 61 people lost their lives after a New Year's Eve fireworks display sparked a stampede, crushing hundreds of people near a soccer stadium in the city of Abidjan. Many of the dead were children and teenagers who lost their footing in the rush of the crowd, and some of the survivors have blamed the barricades set up along the main boulevard where people were trying to escape, USA Today has reported.
Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara has declared three days of national mourning in the wake of the tragedy.
"Near the Justice Palace we were stopped by some people who built wooden blockades in the street," one of the survivors, 33-year-old Zoure Sanate said from a hospital bed. "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," Sanate continued. "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."
The African country was celebrating not only New Year's, but peaceful resolutions to several months of political violence that stemmed from disputed elections in 2011.
Many have voiced their anger at authorities for not organizing the event properly and not taking into account just how many people would come out to watch the fireworks.
"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."
In a separate incident in Angola, 16 people were crushed to death and 120 injured at the Cidadela Desportiva stadium where the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (IURD) was hosting an organized vigil on Monday night. IURD, a Pentecostal church founded in 1977 in Brazil, has over 8 million adherents, and has a presence in many countries around the world.
"Our expectation was to have 70,000 people, but that was surpassed by far," Ferner Batalha, IURD's deputy bishop for Angola said, according to Reuters. Four children were among the dead, The Associate Press added. Initial reports placed the number of dead to 10, but on Wednesday that confirmed number was increased to 16.
The stadium, which is located in the capital and largest city in Angola, has a capacity of 50,000 people and is most often used for soccer matches.
Angola President Alassane Ouattara has ordered an investigation into the incident to discover what caused the stampede and to see how future incidents like this can be prevented.