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Abidjan - Ivory Coast declared three days of mourning after 62 people were crushed to death in a New Year's Eve stampede, and on Wednesday many were still looking for missing family members.
President Alassane Ouattara, who visited the injured at the Cocody Teaching Hospital late Tuesday, called it “a national tragedy”. Many of the victims were children.
The government set up a crisis centre with two toll-free numbers to coordinate relief efforts after the stampede in Abidjan, the West African country's largest city, early Tuesday as hundreds of thousands of revellers were leaving a fireworks display. Nearly 200 people were injured.
But many mothers complained that the crisis centre was yet to respond to their queries. Others were confused about the relief efforts as they were unsure of where to search for their loved ones.
Others waited outside a morgue hoping for news of their relatives and friends. Fanta Camara, 32, a hairdresser said she was unable to find her 13-year-old son.
“The list of the dead and injured from the stampede has yet to be published and the toll-free numbers have been busy - I have been calling and calling. I can't get them,” Camara told dpa.
Soumaila Bamba, 27, a mechanic, feared his missing 14-year-old brother might be among the victims. “Despite the ads run on (state television) RTI, doors are still closed, we don't know where to go to address the missing cases.”
Ouattara assured the injured that the government will pay their medical bills. He also ordered further investigations to find out who was responsible for the stampede.
There was still no clarity on what sparked the stampede. Some have blamed the police barriers - set up using tree trunks - near the stadium's entrance, saying many people were crushed as they attempted to exit the event.
A police source said it happened when two streams of revellers, moving in opposite directions, crossed paths on a poorly lit street not far from the stadium.
There was speculation that the stampede started when gangsters armed with knives were targeting people for their mobile phones and money.
“This attack caused panic and made people run for their lives, that's what caused the stampede,” said survivor Hamed Dosso.
As various theories circulated in Abidjan, the security minister warned on national radio that none of the explanations should be taken for granted as investigations were still on.
Franck Kouame, 31, told dpa: “It's true that very often the crowd lacks discipline, but I blame security forces' laxity for crowd control. How can they set up tree trunks as crowd control barriers in a dark street and leave these barriers before the crowd has gone home?”
Witness Stephane Kallet recalled the stadium stampede in 2009 in which 22 people were killed and more than 130 injured.
He said: “It's not the first time that such stampede happens in this country ... we should not expect much from these investigations that the police are carrying (out). They are not transparent; they won't point out the weaknesses of their own system.” - Sapa-dpa