YAOUNDE, CAMEROON - At least six people died in a crush outside a stadium hosting a game at Africa's top soccer tournament in Cameroon on Monday, a local government official said, realizing fears about the capacity of the Central African country to stage the continent's biggest sports event.
Naseri Paul Biya, the governor of the central region of Cameroon, said there could be more deaths.
'We are not in position to give you the total number of casualties,' he said.
The crush happened as crowds struggled to get access to Olembe Stadium in the capital city of Yaounde to watch the host country play Comoros in a last 16 knockout game in the Africa Cup of Nations.
Officials at the nearby Messassi hospital said they received at least 40 injured people, whom police and civilians had rushed to the hospital. The officials said the hospital couldn't treat all of them.
'Some of the injured are in desperate condition,' said Olinga Prudence, a nurse. 'We will have to evacuate them to a specialized hospital.'
Witnesses at the stadium said children were among those caught up in the crush, which, they said, occurred when stadium stewards closed the gates and stopped allowing people in.
Soccer officials said around 50,000 people had tried to attend the match. The stadium has a capacity of 60,000, but it was not meant to be more than 80% full for the game because of restrictions on crowd size due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Confederation of African Football, which runs the Africa Cup, said in a statement it was aware of the incident.
'CAF is currently investigating the situation and trying to get more details on what transpired,' it said. 'We are in constant communication with Cameroon government and the Local Organizing Committee.'
One of the federation's top officials, General Secretary Veron Mosengo-Omba, went to visit injured fans in the hospital, the statement said.
Cameroon is hosting the Africa Cup for the first time in 50 years. It was meant to host the tournament in 2019, but the event was taken away that year and awarded to Egypt because of concerns about Cameroon's preparations, particularly the readiness of its stadiums.
Olembe Stadium was one of the venues under scrutiny.
Monday's incident was the second serious blow to the country in the space of a day, after at least 17 people died in a fire set by a series of explosions at a nightclub in Yaounde on Sunday.
Following that incident, Cameroon President Paul Biya urged the country to be on guard while it hosts its biggest national sports event in a half century.
Cameroon won Monday's game 2-1 to move on to the quarterfinals.