SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) — Fans angry at not being allowed to participate in a Salvadoran soccer league knocked down an entrance gate to the stadium, sparking a crush that killed at least 12 people and injured dozens, officials and witnesses said Sunday.
The stampede came late Saturday during a quarter-final match between the Alianza and Fas clubs at the Monumental Stadium in Cuscatlan in the south of San Salvador, the country’s capital.
“The game was supposed to start at 7:30 PM, but they closed the gate at 7:00 PM 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 down the gate.”
Civil protection director Luis Amaya said about 500 people have been treated and about 100 taken to hospitals. At least two of the injured who were 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 been killed.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino said this on Sunday in a speech to a meeting of the World Health Organization in Geneva: “Of course I just want to express my condolences to all the people of El Salvador for this tragic incident.”
Play was halted about 16 minutes into the game, when fans in the stands began waving frantically to attract the attention of those on the pitch and carrying the injured out of a tunnel onto the pitch.
Local television broadcast live footage of the aftermath of the stampede, which appeared to have been shot mostly by Alianza fans. Dozens reached the field where they received medical treatment. Fans escaping the crowds stood on the pitch waving shirts angrily and trying to watch 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 the hospital where he received medical attention. “Luckily I only have a few bruises… but not everyone was lucky.”
Pedro Hernández, president of El Salvador’s first football division, said the preliminary information he had was that the stampede happened because fans forced their way into the stadium through a gate.
“It was an avalanche of fans rushing through the gate. Some were still under the metal in the tunnel. Others managed to reach the stands and then the pitch and were smothered,” an unidentified volunteer from the Rescue Commandos first aid group told journalists.
National Civil Police Commissioner Mauricio Arriza Chicas said at the scene of the tragedy that a criminal investigation would be launched in conjunction with the Attorney General’s Office.
“We will investigate from ticket sales, the entrances to the stadium, but especially the southern zone,” where, he said, the gate was pushed open.
The Salvadoran Football Federation said in a statement that it regrets what happened and expressed support for the families of the victims.