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93 Die in Nepal Stadium Stampede : Soccer Fans Rush to Locked Exits in Sudden Hailstorm

March 13, 1988|Associated Press

KATMANDU, Nepal — Thousands of soccer fans stampeded into locked stadium exits to escape a sudden hailstorm Saturday, killing at least 93 in the crush, witnesses and hospital sources said.

About 30,000 fans were at the National Stadium watching a match between Nepalese and Bangladeshi teams when a storm burst upon the city, bringing lightning and high winds and pelting the crowd with large hailstones. Witnesses said screaming spectators rushed to the stadium's eight exits but found only one open.

Police and hospital sources in the city confirmed that more than 70 people, including two police officers, were trampled to death or suffocated. Government television reported 73 people were killed, and witnesses said another 20 bodies left at the stadium were later retrieved by relatives.

More than 100 people were hospitalized with injuries. Hospital sources said 12 were in serious condition. Many more were treated and released.

At the Bir Hospital near the stadium, Maya Laxmi Vaidya, a white-haired woman clad in a sari, said her 12-year-old grandson was killed in the stampede.

Saturday Called Unlucky

"I've told my family not go out on Saturday. Older people understand this and don't go out," she said.

The day is considered unlucky among Nepal's Hindus. It is named for the planet Saturn, which in Hindu mythology possesses strong negative powers.

The government ordered a judicial commission to investigate the disaster and announced payments of $450 to relatives of the dead and $90 to the injured.

Crowds angered by failure of the authorities to open the gates attacked three cars with government license plates outside the stadium with rocks, smashing windshields.

Reporters who arrived at the stadium moments later found it largely deserted. Sandals and shoes littered the ground near the one open gate.

Witnesses said most of the deaths occurred there, as spectators who found other exits locked rushed toward the only outlet.

It was Nepal's worst sports-related disaster.

The downtown stadium was filled almost to capacity for the final game of a major tournament in Nepal's most popular sport. The Tribhuvan Challenge Shield Cup, named for a former Nepalese king, pitted a team from the National Cigarette Factory against the Mukti Joddha, or Freedom Fighters, from nearby Bangladesh.

Stadium officials said no soccer players were involved in the stampede and none was injured.

Despite sunshine for most of the day, the storm howled through this Himalayan capital at mid-afternoon, carrying winds of more than 50 m.p.h. It uprooted trees throughout Katmandu Valley and temporarily disrupted telex lines.

In Tripoli, Libya, on Thursday evening, panicked soccer fans fled from knife-wielding ruffians and triggered the collapse of a sports stadium, killing at least 20 people, news reports from Malta and Yugoslavia said. The Libyan news agency JANA said two only people were killed and 16 were hospitalized.

The worst soccer disaster on record took place on May 24, 1964, when rioting left nearly 300 dead and 500 injured after Argentina beat Peru on a last-minute goal.

On May 29, 1985, 39 people died at Heysel Stadium in Brussels when British soccer fans went on a rampage against Italian fans.

Fifty-three fans died on May 11, 1985, when a fire engulfed the main stand during a match at Bradford City's soccer stadium in England.

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