‘Swarms of people’: Witnesses recall Yemen stampede tragedy

Locals blame merchants, authorities for the stampede, which left at least 78 people gathered to receive donations dead.

Sanaa, Yemen – Survivors of a stampede in the Yemeni capital that killed at least 78 people have recounted the horror of the incident, which came a day before the country celebrates the Eid holiday.

Anis al-Asbahi, the Houthi-run health ministry’s spokesman in Sanaa, said that medical reports showed that people had died from physical trauma, suffocation, and a lack of oxygen.

Hundreds of people had gathered in the Alsafia district of Sanaa after hearing that local merchants would be handing out the equivalent of approximately $10. For many in Yemen, where years of war have left the already poor country economically devastated, that was reason enough to join the crowd.

“I thought I would wait a few minutes to get the amount and then leave. I didn’t imagine this tragedy would happen,” 32-year-old Ali Abdu told Al Jazeera. “I and thousands of people were gathered at the gate of Maeen school, waiting for the gate to open. The crowd kept increasing, and people began to push each other.”

“I was pushed back and forth, having no control over my movement,” he added. “When the school gate opened, swarms of people rushed to enter. I was lucky I was not on the front side of the crowd. Those who entered first fell, and the crowds stomped on them. Because of that, deaths and injuries happened.”

[Al Jazeera]

Abdulrahman Naji, 28, passed the crowd while driving near the school where people had gathered.

“When I saw that huge crowd, I felt that was dangerous,” Naji said. “There was zero organisation and management of the sea of people. Some of them seemed elderly, some had physical disabilities, and some were children. They would be vulnerable in such a place.”

Naji blamed the merchant and the Houthi rebels who control Sanaa and much of northern Yemen. “The merchant did not organise the people waiting for donations, and the police did not act pre-emptively and wisely.”

Some of those who crowded at the school gate to receive charity were government employees. Their salaries have been largely unpaid since 2016 due to the military conflict and power struggles in Yemen.

[Alia Chughtai/Al Jazeera]

Mohammed, a school teacher, said this stampede has to be a final reminder to the parties of the conflict. “The warring sides have stopped our salaries and starved millions of people. If all employees received their salaries as they used to do before the war, we would not see these crowds in front of charity centres, and this catastrophe would not have occurred.”

“While the Houthis only focus on proving themselves to be a powerful military force, the Yemeni government is not ready to provide salaries to state employees in Houthi-controlled areas,” said Mohammed. “This stampede explains our situation sufficiently.”

A few hours after the stampede, the Houthi authorities in Sanaa said they would give one million Yemeni riyals (about $2,000) to the dead victims’ families, cover the treatment of the injured, and grant everyone injured 200,000 Yemeni rials (about $400).

But Mohammed rejected that as too little, too late. “The authorities show mercy after civilians die, and they just care about polishing their image before the public,” he said.

[Alia Chughtai/Al Jazeera]
Source: Al Jazeera