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El Salvador soccer stadium stampede leaves 12 dead after fans rush entrance gate

APTOPIX El Salvador Soccer Stampede
Posted at 1:22 PM, May 21, 2023

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) — Fans angry at being blocked from entering a Salvadoran soccer league match knocked down an entrance gate to the stadium, leading to a crush that left at least 12 people dead and dozens injured, officials and witnesses said Sunday.

The stampede took place late Saturday during a quarterfinals match between clubs Alianza and Fas at Monumental Stadium in Cuscatlan in southern San Salvador, the nation's capital.

"The game was scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. but they closed the gate at 7 p.m. and left us outside (the stadium) with our tickets in our hands," said Alianza fan José Ángel Penado. "People got angry. We asked them to let us in, but no. So they knocked the gate down."

Civil Protection director Luis Amaya said about 500 people had been attended to and about 100 were taken to hospitals. At least two of the injured transported to hospitals were in critical condition.

"El Salvador is in mourning," said a statement from the press office of Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele, which confirmed that at least 12 people had died.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino said Sunday in a speech to a World Health Organization meeting in Geneva that "I simply would like to express, of course, my condolences to all the people of El Salvador for this tragic incident."

Play was suspended about 16 minutes into the match, when fans in the stands waving frantically began getting the attention of those on the field and carrying the injured out of a tunnel and down to the pitch.

Local television transmitted live images of the aftermath of the stampede, which appeared to be by mainly Alianza fans. Dozens made it onto the field where they received medical treatment. Fans who escaped the crush stood on the field furiously waving shirts attempting to review people lying on the grass barely moving.

"It was a night of terror. I never thought something like this would happen to me," said Alianza fan Tomas Renderos as he left a hospital where he had received medical attention. "Fortunately I only have a few bruises... but not everyone had my luck."

Pedro Hernández, president of El Salvador soccer's first division, said the preliminary information he had was that the stampede occurred because fans pushed through a gate into the stadium.

"It was an avalanche of fans who overran the gate. Some were still under the metal in the tunnel. Others managed to make it to the stands and then to the field and were smothered," an unidentified volunteer with the Rescue Commandos first aid group told journalists.

National Civil Police Commissioner Mauricio Arriza Chicas, at the scene of the tragedy, said there would be a criminal investigation in conjunction with the Attorney General's Office.

"We are going to investigate from the ticket sales, the entries into the stadium, but especially the southern zone," where, he said, the gate was pushed open.

The Salvadoran Soccer Federation said in a statement that it regretted what had happened and voiced support for the victims' families.