Deadly stampede in Yemen comes ahead of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
An act of charity has turned into a tragedy in one of the world's poorest nations. About 80 people died and many more were injured in a stampede that developed as people gathered in the capital to collect donations on one of the final days of Ramadan. NPR's Aya Batrawy has this report.
AYA BATRAWY, BYLINE: Evening prayers had just finished, and a crowd was gathered at a school in Yemen's capital, Sana'a, where cash handouts worth around $9 were being distributed. But it all went horribly wrong as the crowd pushed forward, down a narrow street leading toward the school, unaware that people in the front were being crushed and suffocated. The tragedy occurred just days before Muslims celebrate the end of Ramadan with charity to the poor.
Video of the stampede showed men struggling to break free from the crowd, their arms stretched out as they pleaded for rescue. A man standing on a ledge is heard yelling to the crowd, move back, move back. But it was already too late.
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BATRAWY: Health officials say in addition to the dozens dead, many more were injured in the stampede. Yemeni news channel Al-Masirah carried images of survivors in hospitals. Some had broken bones or deep gashes on their legs; others were breathing with the support of oxygen masks. Houthi officials, who are in charge of the capital Sana'a, say the event should have never happened like this. Houthi officials told local TV prominent businessmen had organized the charitable distribution without coordinating first with local authorities.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).
BATRAWY: The Houthi-run Al-Masirah TV channel says a criminal investigation is underway. The channel carried images of the aftermath. Stairs leading up to the school are strewn with the bloodstained clothes and rubber flip-flops of victims. This is one of the world's poorest countries. Its economy has been devastated by years of war. The World Food Programme estimates that nearly 24 million people in Yemen are in need of assistance. Seventeen million lack access to affordable vegetables, fruit and other basic food items. There are signs that Yemen's war is now winding down, but Wednesday night's stampede is a reminder of just how dire the humanitarian crisis remains.
Aya Batrawy, NPR News, Dubai.
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