SAN SALVADOR: Twelve people were killed and hundreds injured on Saturday in a stampede at an El Salvador soccer stadium, police and emergency services said.
Authorities said initial reports pointed to a crush of fans who tried to enter Cuscatlan Stadium in the Central American country’s capital San Salvador to watch a local tournament match between teams Alianza and FAS.
The match was suspended as emergency personnel evacuated people from the stadium, where hundreds of police officers and soldiers gathered as ambulance sirens wailed.
“Salvadoran soccer is in mourning,” National Civil Police (PNC) director Mauricio Arriaza told reporters as he confirmed the death toll of 12.
100 people in serious condition; Fifa chief offers condolences to victims’ families
In a statement Sunday, FIFA president Gianni Infantino offered his condolences to the victims’ families and described the stampede as “tragic”.
“I extend my deepest condolences to the families and friends of the victims who lost their lives after the tragic incidents that have taken place in El Salvador,” Infantino said.
Among the survivors, Sandra Guzman, 40, left a capital hospital early Sunday with a bandage on her left knee, walking with difficulty alongside her friend, Javier Ramirez, 31.
Both said this was the “first and last time” they would experience such a misfortune because they would not return to the stadium. “A large crowd of people fell on me. I couldn’t even breathe, they were choking me,” Guzman said.
When she was in front of a stadium gate, she said “people were pushing me to get in, they didn’t give me a chance to go back. When I came to see, I panicked, I had a lot of people on top of me”. She added, “I fainted, and when I woke up I was in the hospital.”
Health Minister Francisco Alabi said earlier that the country’s hospital network was “providing medical care to all patients”.
Carlos Fuentes, spokesman for the emergency services group Comandos de Salvamento, said they were treating more than 500 people. About 100 people in serious condition were taken to hospital, with some showing signs of asphyxia and other types of trauma, Fuentes said.
The stampede apparently started after a stadium gate fell, causing people to crowd together, he said. At least two of the injured were in critical condition, according to police.
El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele said the PNC and the Attorney General’s Office would investigate the incident and those responsible would be punished.
“Everyone will be investigated: teams, managers, stadium, box office, league, federation,” Bukele said on Twitter. He warned that “whoever the culprits are, they will not go unpunished.”
Arriaza of the PNC said the investigation would determine responsibility “either by action or omission of some of those in charge.” Police also aim to learn “why the fans made the decision to break through one of the gates on the south side” of the stadium.
He said there were issues with the ticket office’s QR readers in the same area.
The tragedy comes seven months after 135 people, including more than 40 children, were killed in a stampede following a football match in Malang, Indonesia.
Published in Dawn, May 22nd, 2023