The Ivory Coast concluded a three-day period of mourning Jan. 4 following the deaths of at least 61 people, mostly children and teenagers, who were trampled after a New Year’s Eve celebration.

A crowd of 50,000 had gathered in Abidjan inside Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium to watch a firework display on New Year’s Eve that was to celebrate a united Ivory Coast in the second year of the conclusion of a brutal civil war.

Instead, by the end of the night, and on the first day of the year, 61 people lay trampled to death and lifeless after a post-fireworks stampede that witnesses said was linked to makeshift barricades blocking streets surrounding the stadium.

Some witnesses said tree trunks formed unofficial barricades, forcing those who had attended the fireworks display to be funneled into overcrowded streets. “Near the Justice Palace we were stopped by some people who put blockades of wood in the street,” Zoure Sanate, who was injured in the panicked crowd, told Al Jazeera from her bed in Cocody Hospital.

“They told us we must stay in the Plateau area until morning. None of us expected to stay in Plateau until the morning for a celebration that ended at around 1am.”

“Then came the stampede of people behind us.”

“After the fireworks we reopened the other streets, but we had not yet removed the tree trunks from the Boulevard de la Republique, in front of the Hotel Tiana near the National Assembly (parliament) building,” a police officer said.

“That is where the stampede happened when people flooded in from the other streets.”

Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara declared the three-day period of mourning after visiting the scene in the wake of the stampede and also visited hospital beds where the injured were taken.

“The President of the Republic presents its deepest condolences to the families and relatives of the victims and assured them of all his compassion in these painful circumstances. Injured, he wishes a speedy recovery,” said a statement released by the president’s office.

“He also requested an investigation soon to determine the circumstances and causes of the stampede.”

Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer