Sanaa, Yemen: A crowd apparently panicked by gunfire and an electrical explosion stampeded at an event to distribute financial aid during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Yemen’s capital late Wednesday, killing at least 85 people and hundreds injured, according to witnesses and Houthi rebel officials.
The tragedy was Yemen’s deadliest in years that was not related to the country’s long-running war, and came ahead of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan later this week.
Armed Houthis fired into the air in an attempt at crowd control, apparently striking an electrical wire and causing it to explode, according to two witnesses, Abdel-Rahman Ahmed and Yahia Mohsen. That sparked a panic, and people, including many women and children, began stampeding, they said.
The crush took place in the Old City in the center of Sanaa, where hundreds of poor people had gathered for a charity event organized by merchants, according to the Houthi-run Interior Ministry.
People had gathered to receive about $10 each from a charity funded by local businessmen, witnesses said. Wealthy people and businessmen often hand out cash and food, especially to the poor, during Ramadan.
Interior Ministry spokesperson Brig. Abdel-Khaleq al-Aghri, blamed the crush on the “random distribution” of funds without coordination with local authorities.
Motaher al-Marouni, a senior health official, said 78 people were killed, according to the rebels’ Al-Masirah satellite TV channel. At least 73 others were injured and taken to the al-Thawra Hospital in Sanaa, according to hospital deputy director Hamdan Bagheri.
The rebels quickly sealed off a school where the event was being held and barred people, including journalists, from approaching. The Interior Ministry said it had detained two organizers and an investigation was under way.