Angry fans who were denied entry to a Salvadoran Soccer League match despite having tickets knocked down a small entrance to the stadium, setting off a crush that left 12 dead and dozens injured, officials and witnesses said Sunday.
14-year-old Diego Armando said he went with his father to watch the quarterfinal match between Club Alianza and Fez at the Monumental Stadium in Cuscatlán, southern San Salvador, on Saturday night.
He recalled being in the crowd during the tragedy. “There were so many people that the little gate couldn’t support them and it came down,” he told Channel 12 television.
“I fell and my body was crushed from my waist to my feet. Five men pulled me free and saved me by a miracle. Two men in front of me died. I spoke to one but he did not move,” said the boy. .
Her father, Hector Rivas, said the crash happened because there were two small gates open and the others closed.
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“People started pushing and I couldn’t even breathe,” he said.
Play was suspended about 16 minutes into the match, when fans in the stands began waving frantically to attract the attention of those on the field and carry the injured out of a tunnel and onto the field.
Local television broadcast live images of the aftermath of the stampede, which appeared to involve mainly Alianza fans. Dozens were taken to the field where they received treatment. Fans escaping the crush frantically waved their shirts at the barely-moving crowd lying on the grass.
“El Salvador is in mourning,” said a statement from Salvadoran President Naib Buquel’s press office, which confirmed that at least 12 people had died.
Alianza fan Jose Angel Penado said the game was supposed to start at 7:30 p.m. but they closed the gates at 7 p.m. and “walked out (of the stadium) with our tickets in hand.”
Sections of the stadium are often reserved for one team’s fans to avoid clashes with rivals, so those fans must enter through designated gates.
“People were angry. We asked them to let us in, but no. So they tore down the gate,” Penado said.
Civil Protection Director Luis Amaya said about 500 people were held in the stadium and about 100 were taken to hospital. At least two of the injured are said to be in critical condition.
“It was a night of terror. I never thought something like this would happen to me,” Alianza fan Tomas Renderos said as he left a hospital where he was receiving treatment. “Fortunately I only have a few bruises… but luckily not everyone has.”
Pedro Hernández, president of El Salvador Soccer’s first division, said he had initial information that the stampede was caused by fans pushing through a stadium gate.
“It was an avalanche of fans who crossed 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 suffocated,” said an unidentified volunteer from the Rescue Commandos’ first aid group. told reporters.
National Civil Police Commissioner Mauricio Ariza 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 entrance to the stadium, but especially the south zone,” where he said, the gate was pushed open.
“I just want to express my condolences to all the people of El Salvador for this tragic event,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said in a speech at a World Health Organization meeting in Geneva on Sunday.