31 dead in Nigeria church fair stampede

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — Thirty-one people were killed and seven injured in a stampede Saturday at a church charity event in southern Nigeria, police told The Associated Press, in an effort to help those in need. Shocking progress on a plan that offers hope. A witness said the dead included a pregnant woman and many children.

According to police spokeswoman Grace Illinger-Coco, the stampede occurred at an event organized by the Pentecostal Church of Kings Assembly in Rivers state involving people who participated in the church’s annual “Free Shopping” charity program.

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

Saturday’s charity event was scheduled to start at 9 a.m., but dozens of people arrived as early as 5 a.m. to secure their spots, Iringe-Koko said. She said that somehow the locked gate was broken, causing the stampede.

Godwin Tepicor of Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency said first responders were able to evacuate the bodies of those trampled to death and take them to morgues. Security forces cordoned off the area.

Dozens of residents then swarmed the scene to mourn the dead and help emergency responders as much as they could. Doctors and first responders treated some of the injured lying in the clearing. Video from the scene shows clothes, shoes and other items being prepared for the beneficiaries.

An eyewitness who identified himself as Daniel said there were “many children” among the dead. Five of the dead were from a 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 spokesman said seven injured were “under treatment”.

The “Free Shopping” campaign has been suspended while authorities investigate how the stampede happened.

Nigeria has had similar stampedes in the past.

In 2013, an overcrowded church gathering in the southeastern state of Anambra killed 24 people, while in 2014 at least 16 people died when a crowd went out of control during a screening process for government jobs in the country’s capital, Abuja.

Associated Press reporter Hilary Uguru in Warri, Nigeria contributed.

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