SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — Fans angry at being blocked from entering a Salvadoran soccer league match despite having tickets knocked down a small access gate to the stadium, creating a crush that killed 12 people and injured dozens, officials and witnesses said Sunday.
Diego Armando, 14, said he went with this father to watch Saturday night’s quarterfinals match between clubs Alianza and Fas at Monumental Stadium in Cuscatlan in southern San Salvador, the nation’s capital.
He recalled being in the crowd when the tragedy struck. “There were so many people that the small gate couldn’t support them and it went down,” he told Channel 12 television.
“I fell and my body from my waist to my feet was crushed. Five people pulled me free and saved me by a miracle. Two people in front of me died. I spoke to one and he didn’t move,” the boy said.
His father, Hectór Rivas, said the crush occurred because there were only two small gates open and the rest were closed.
“People began to push and I couldn’t even breathe,” he said.
Play was suspended about 16 minutes into the match, when fans in the stands waving frantically began getting the attention of those on the field and carrying the injured out of a tunnel and down onto the field.
Local television transmitted live images of the aftermath of the stampede, which appeared to mainly involve Alianza fans. Dozens made it onto the field where they received medical treatment. Fans who escaped the crush furiously waved their shirts attempting to review people lying on the grass barely moving.
“El Salvador is in mourning,” said a statement from the press office of Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele, which confirmed that at least 12 people were dead.
Alianza fan José Ángel Penado said the game was scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. but they closed the gate at 7 p.m. and “left us outside (the stadium) with our tickets in our hands.”
Sections of the stadium are often reserved for fans of one team to avoid clashes with rivals, so those fans would have to enter through the indicated gate.
“People got angry. We asked them to let us in, but no. So they knocked the gate down,” Penado said.
Civil Protection director Luis Amaya said about 500 people had been tended to at the stadium and about 100 were taken to hospitals. At least two of the injured transported to hospitals were reported in critical condition.
“It was a night of terror. I never thought something like this would happen to me,” sAlianza fan Tomas Renderos said as he left a hospital where he had received medical attention. “Fortunately I only have a few bruises … but not everyone had my luck.”
Pedro Hernández, president of El Salvador soccer’s first division, said the preliminary information he had was that the stampede occurred because fans pushed through a gate into the stadium.
“It was an avalanche of fans who overran 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 were smothered,” an unidentified volunteer with the Rescue Commandos first aid group told journalists.
National Civil Police Commissioner Mauricio Arriza 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 entries into the stadium, but especially the southern zone,” where, he said, the gate was pushed open.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino said Sunday in a speech at a World Health Organization meeting in Geneva, “I simply would like to express, of course, my condolences to all the people of El Salvador for this tragic incident.”