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66 Killed in Stampede at Manila Game Show

February 4, 2006

MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ A stampede broke out early Saturday outside a stadium near Manila where thousands had lined up to watch a popular game show, and at least 66 people were trampled to death, an official said.

About 30,000 people were waiting to get inside the stadium for the program ``Wowowee″ when the mayhem erupted, said Vicente Eusebio, the mayor of Pasig, the Manila suburb where the stampede occurred.

He said at least 66 people died _ 63 of them women. At least 200 were hospitalized with injuries, according to the Philippine Red Cross.

The mayor said the melee erupted as the crowd pushed and surged toward the gates, thinking they were open, pinning and trampling those in front. One survivor said some people in the crowd became rowdy when they could not enter.

``The gates were being partially opened then shut,″ said Myrna Britania, 42, who spoke at a hospital where the injured were being treated. ``The raffle tickets can be obtained at the gate so everyone was in a hurry. There was pushing and people in front of the gate were crushed.″

Britania, who had spent all night in line, said ``people at the back of the line were pushing not knowing there were already people dead lying on the ground in front.″

Eusebio and police denied reports that the stampede was caused by a bomb scare.

Merquieades Salazar cried over the body of his wife, who was among those crushed. Salazar, 45, said the couple was jobless and wanted to try their luck at winning a raffle with a jackpot equivalent to $384.

``In the desire to win money, she is the one I lost,″ Salazar sobbed as he stroked his dead wife’s hair.

``We both fell and we were both pinned to the ground,″ he said.

Authorities were collecting the dead and lining up the bodies on the side of a street outside the stadium for identification as bags and shoes lay scattered outside the hall.

Police Superintendent Gerry Galvan said at least 50 people died at the stadium and the rest at hospitals where they were taken. Soldiers loaded some of the bodies into a truck.

Radio DZBB reported that hospitals were overwhelmed with the scores of injured and were using parking lots to accommodate them. The Rizal Medical Center was treating 200 injured in one hospital alone, said Sen. Richard Gordon, head of the Philippine Red Cross.

Vice President Noli de Castro arrived at the scene, giving instructions to police to clear the area of people and cars to make things easier for rescue workers.

``We did not want this to happen. It’s just that there were so many people wanting to watch Wowowee because of the big prizes awaiting them,″ de Castro said.

The game show, organized by ABS-CBN TV network, is extremely popular in the Philippines because it offers big prizes, like cars and money. Some people had lined up for two days to get tickets.

Gordon blamed poor organization of the event for the tragedy.

``If you predict that there’s going to be a huge crowd, you should be ready with ambulances and communications,″ he said. ``You should plan for the worst. We have a lot of people who wanted to help but could not get in immediately.″