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At least 74 killed, hundreds injured in stampede at Manila stadium

Sunday, February 5, 2006

MANILA, Philippines -- Thousands of people lined up outside a stadium near Manila to watch a TV game show surged toward the gates Saturday in the mistaken belief they were open, and at least 74 people were trampled to death, officials said. About 500 people were injured.

About 30,000 people were waiting to get inside the Philsports Arena for the show "Wowowee" when the stampede occurred, said Vicente Eusebio, the mayor of suburban Pasig, where the stampede occurred.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who visited the injured in hospitals, ordered authorities to conduct a thorough investigation and submit a report to her in 72 hours.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said 74 people were killed, including a person who died of massive bleeding more than 12 hours after the stampede; 514 were injured

Survivors said the game show was to include a raffle with a jackpot equivalent to $384.

"The raffle tickets can be obtained at the gate so everyone was in a hurry. There was pushing and people in front of the gate were crushed," said Myrna Britania, 42, who spent all night in line.

"People at the back of the line were pushing, not knowing there were already people dead lying on the ground in front."

Merquieades Salazar cried over the body of his wife, who was among those crushed. Salazar, 45, said the couple was jobless and wanted to try their luck at winning the jackpot.

"In the desire to win money, she is the one I lost," Salazar sobbed as he stroked his dead wife's hair.

His son, Melvin, who had accompanied his wife, said, "We both fell and we were both pinned to the ground."

Bags and shoes littered the scene. Authorities lined up the bodies outside the stadium for identification. Officials put digital photographs of unidentified bodies on windows.

Overwhelmed, some hospitals used parking lots to accommodate the injured. The Rizal Medical Center alone was treating more than 200 people, said Sen. Richard Gordon, head of the Red Cross.

Arroyo consoled the injured during a visit to the medical center, putting her hands on the shoulders of Leny Subayco, 35, who was waiting for an X-ray of her injured leg.

"The one I was trying to help also perished," she told Arroyo through tears.

Subayco later told reporters she and others were pressed against the gate of the stadium as people fell on top of one another. She said she lost consciousness and when she came to, she was pinned underneath people.

"Under me was a dead person, beside me there was another dead and there was another dead above me," she said.

Vice President Noli de Castro helped direct rescue efforts at the stadium, giving instructions to police to clear the area of people and cars.

"We did not want this to happen. It's just that there were so many people wanting to watch 'Wowowee' because of the big prizes awaiting them," de Castro said.

Filipino-American Brenda Baranquil, who has watched the show in Los Angeles, said thousands of people already were lined up when she arrived at the stadium on Thursday, a day after arriving from the United States to visit her ailing mother.

"I knew it was a time bomb ready to explode," she said, citing the lack of police officers to manage the crowd.

The game show, organized by ABS-CBN TV network, is popular in the Philippines because it offers big prizes, like cars and money. Some people had lined up for two days to get tickets.

Gordon blamed the tragedy on poor organization.

"If you predict that there's going to be a huge crowd, you should be ready with ambulances and communications," he said. "You should plan for the worst. We have a lot of people who wanted to help but could not get in immediately."

ABS-CBN executive vice president for entertainment, Charo Santos-Concio, expressed regret and promised the TV station "will ensure that we will give all needed help and support to the wounded." The show was postponed.


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