A stampede Saturday at a church charity event intended to offer hope to the needy left 31 people dead and seven injured in southern Nigeria, police said. One witness said the dead included a pregnant woman and many children, the AP reports. The stampede at the event organized by the Kings Assembly Pentecostal church in Rivers state involved people who came to the church's annual Shop for Free charity program, said Grace Iringe-Koko, a police spokeswoman. Such events are common in Nigeria, Africa's largest economy, where more than 80 million people live in poverty, according to government statistics.
Saturday's charity program was supposed to begin at 9am, but dozens arrived as early as 5am to secure a place in line, Iringe-Koko said. Somehow the locked gate was broken open, creating a stampede, she said. Godwin Tepikor of Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency said first responders were able to remove the bodies of those trampled to death and bring them to the morgue. Security forces cordoned off the area. Dozens of residents later thronged the scene, mourning the dead and offering assistance to emergency workers. Doctors and emergency workers treated some of the injured as they lay in the open field. Videos from the scene showed the clothing, shoes, and other items meant for the beneficiaries.
"There were so many children" among the dead, one witness said, including five siblings. Some church members were attacked and injured by relatives of the victims after the stampede, another witness said. The Shop for Free event was suspended while authorities investigated how the stampede occurred. Nigeria has seen similar stampedes in the past. Twenty-four people died at a church gathering in the southeastern state of Anambra in 2013, while at least 16 people were killed in 2014 when a crowd got out of control during a screening for government jobs in the nation's capital, Abuja.
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