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Stampede at Soccer Match Kills 43

April 12, 2001

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ Fans stampeded at a packed soccer stadium in Johannesburg on Wednesday night, killing at least 43 people and injuring more than 150 others. Two of the dead were children.

Sobbing women were led away from the stadium early Thursday after identifying their relatives’ bodies. At least 27 bodies were lined up on the field, and several others lay outside.

The stampede occurred during a match between two popular teams at Ellis Park Stadium. Witnesses said the stadium was vastly overcrowded and erupted into chaos after the Orlando Pirates scored a goal against the Premier League rival Kaizer Chiefs.

``That’s when everything happened,″ stadium security guard Louis Shipalana, 42, told The Associated Press. ``The stadium was full. There was no place to stand. The people were pushing toward the fence (around the field), and the fence collapsed and the people in the back stepped on those in front.″

Emergency officials said some of the victims died at the fence surrounding the field and others at a fence at the entrance to the stadium. Bodies lay strewn inside and outside the stadium after the stampede.

The stadium, which seats 62,000, was so full, organizers had to shut the gates with thousands of fans still waiting outside, Robin Petersen, a Premier League official, said at the scene. Those fans shoved through the fence, breaking it in four places, he said.

He said security was insufficient to handle the crowd.

A total of 43 people were killed, 29 inside the stadium and 14 outside, said Sgt. Amanda Roestoff, a police spokeswoman. Two of the dead were children, she said. Earlier, Sport Minister Ngconde Balfour said between 47 and 50 people died.

``We’re stunned, we’re shocked and we’re sending our condolences to those families,″ Balfour told The Associated Press. ``Whatever will need to be done we’ll do.″

The South African Press Association reported at least 155 fans were injured. Most suffered fractured ribs and other broken bones, SAPA quoted emergency services spokesman Rodney Eksteen as saying.

Security guards reportedly had earlier fired tear gas at people stampeding outside the stadium, according to 702 radio.

Security guard Petrus Saayman, 22, said he rushed to help a teen-age girl trapped in a fence.

``The girl, she broke her neck or something. When I came there, she was already dead,″ he said.

The match was canceled after about 34 minutes of play with the score tied at 1-1.

A stream of ambulances, private cars and a helicopter delivered injured fans to Johannesburg Hospital. The large television screen in the stadium displayed the telephone numbers for the mortuary and the hospital.

President Thabo Mbeki’s office promised an urgent inquiry into the tragedy to ensure it was not repeated.

``On behalf of the entire nation, the president conveyed condolences to the families of the bereaved,″ according to a statement from Mbeki’s office.

The Chiefs and the Pirates are major rivals and their matches are wildly popular among South Africa soccer fans.

``This match is bigger than Manchester United vs. Liverpool. South African soccer player Mark Fish told the British Broadcasting Corp., referring to a prominent rivalry between two British teams.

``People would travel 300-400 400 miles for the game hoping to get tickets on the day,″ he said.

Balfour said the Premier League was responsible for security at the match, and the chaos should not affect South Africa’s bid to host the 2010 World Cup.

``We cannot think about 2010 now. We’ve got to think about those families,″ he said.

But Fish said the disaster might hurt South Africa’s hopes of landing soccer’s most prestigious competition.

``This could be a dent for 2010. A lot of people will blame each other,″ he told the BBC.