At least 31 people have been killed during a stampede at a church in the southern Rivers state of Nigeria, a police spokesperson has said.
Hundreds of people who had turned up to receive food at the church this morning broke through a gate, which caused the stampede.
Grace Iringe-Koko, police spokesperson for Rivers state, said: “People were there earlier and some got impatient and started rushing, which led to stampeding.
“The police are on the ground monitoring the situation while the investigation is on going.”
One witness said the dead included a pregnant woman and many children.
The stampede at the event had been organised by the Kings Assembly Pentecostal church in Rivers state amd involved people who came to the church’s annual “Shop for Free” charity programme.
The charity programme was supposed to begin at 9am, but dozens arrived as early as 5am to secure their place in line and the locked gate was broken open, Ms Iringe-Koko added.
Godwin Tepikor, from Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency, said first responders were able to recover the bodies of those trampled to death and bring them to the morgue.
Security forces also cordoned off the area.
Doctors and emergency workers treated some of the injured as they lay in the open field.
Videos from the scene showed the clothing, shoes and other items meant for the beneficiaries.
One witness who only identified himself as Daniel said “there were so many children” among the dead.
He added that five of the dead children were from one mother and that a pregnant woman also lost her life.
Seven injured ‘responding to treatment’
Some church members were attacked and injured by relatives of the victims after the stampede, according to witness Christopher Eze.
However, the church declined to comment on the situation.
The police spokeswoman said the seven injured were “responding to treatment”.
The “Shop for Free” event was suspended while authorities investigated how the stampede occurred.
Stampedes are common in Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, where more than 80 million people live in poverty, according to government statistics.
In 2013, 24 people died at an overcrowded church gathering in the southeastern state of Anambra.
And at least 16 people were killed in 2014 when a crowd got out of control during a screening for government jobs in the nation’s capital, Abuja.