(CNN) — A New Year’s Eve fireworks display in Ivory Coast turned from celebration to tragedy early Tuesday when 60 people — most of them women and children — were crushed to death in a stampede, officials said.
The horror unfolded in Abidjan, the country’s largest city and former capital. Interior Minister Hamed Bakayoko said that in addition to the deaths, another 49 people were injured, two of them seriously. The country’s president, Alassane Ouattara, came to the scene and ordered “all means possible” to assist in the response, Bakayoko said in a statement issued Tuesday evening.
“The government extends its condolences to the families of those deceased and assures them of its solidarity,” Bakayoko said.
The 60 dead included 26 children, 28 women and six men, said Minister of Youth Alain Lobognon, via his official Twitter feed, after visiting the hospital morgue where the bodies were taken.
The official AIP news agency earlier said the victims were all children, ranging in age from eight to 15.
Bakayoko said the tragedy happened as hundreds of people were trying to go back home after the fireworks display ended in Plateau, the city’s central business district.
The crush was near a stadium, Bakayoko said, adding that the proper security measures were in place during the fireworks show.
It’s still not clear exactly what triggered the stampede at about 1 a.m.
Many of the victims were trampled on or suffocated by the surging crowd, a senior fire official said on national television. Rescue workers were at the scene two hours later but could not save the victims, the AIP news agency said.
A police official in Abidjan told CNN that most of the victims were young people who wanted to join in the celebration while their elders stayed at home.
The stampede occurred in an area of narrow streets, according to the official, who did not want to be named as he is not authorized to talk to the media.
He said the parents of those involved are at the hospitals and are being assisted by state authorities.
Before the night’s events took a deadly turn, AIP reported that thousands of people had poured into the streets to join the celebration, seen by some as symbolizing the nation’s return to peace.
Nearly 5,000 extra personnel were deployed to ensure people’s security, the news agency said, most of them in the Plateau area.
Ivory Coast suffered months of violence following disputed presidential elections in November 2010. Laurent Gbagbo, then the incumbent president, refused to step down after Ouattara was declared the winner.
Gbagbo was arrested five months later and is now awaiting trial at The Hague, in the Netherlands, accused of crimes against humanity for the civil unrest and deaths.
The International Criminal Court also wants Ivory Coast to hand over his wife, Simone Gbagbo, to face allegations of crimes against humanity.
The West African nation is home to around 22 million people, according to the CIA World Factbook.
CNN’s Laura Smith-Spark and Stephanie Halasz reported from London; and journalist Gemma Parellada from Abidjan.