Clothes strewn at the scene of a stampede on the steps of a charity distribution centre in Sanaa overnight. Image Credit: AFP

Sanaa: Torn clothes and discarded sandals litter the alleyway outside Yemen’s Maeen School, which was turned into a scene of terror when a Ramadan handout went disastrously wrong on Thursday.

As the Houthi rebels that control Yemen’s capital investigate the crush that killed at least 85 people, a sense of fear and sadness pervades this corner of Sanaa’s Old City.

The gates to the school have been ripped off and flung to the ground. Tattered clothing and shoes are piled up outside, along with an abandoned crutch. Stone stairs leading to the school are stained with blood.

Hours earlier, the area rang with panicked screams as hundreds of people who had gathered at the school for a Ramadan cash donation found themselves squeezed together, unable to move.

Footage shows trapped people pleading with outstretched hands, hoping to be pulled free, while some clamber over the crowd in an attempt to escape.

yemen mainaa-1682001841892
Image Credit: Reuters

Further video released by the Houthis depicts corpses on the ground as survivors flee. Unverified images on social media show the dead and injured lined along the alley wall, as ambulances arrive with wailing sirens and flashing lights.

The crowds in Yemen, the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country, came for a businessman’s cash handout of 5,000 rial (about $8) to mark the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month.

Also read

Ola Saeed, 28, managed to get out of the narrow alleyway, just six metres (20 feet) wide, with light injuries.

“There were many people who came to receive charity money, and I was among them,” he told AFP.

“People jostled on top of each other, and my head was pressed against the wall because of all the pushing.”

Nabil Ahmad, 23, was lucky he wasn’t at the front of the crowd.

“There was a huge crowd, and I was among the people in the back. We heard voices and shouting from the front,” he said.

Body bags

Others weren’t so fortunate. In further images released by the Iran-backed Houthis, white body bags were lined up on a hospital floor. Elsewhere, bodies lay covered with green sheets.

Survivors, including children, were stretched out on blue hospital beds, many with bandaged limbs, bleeding wounds and a shocked expression on their faces.

Image Credit: AFP

At least 85 people died and 322 were injured, two Houthi officials told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity. Women and children were among the dead.

It is just the latest tragedy to befall Yemen, which has been brought to its knees by an eight-year civil war between the Houthis and a Saudi-led coalition, fighting on behalf of the ousted government.

Three men have been arrested over the incident, the Houthis said, blaming it on “overcrowding”.

“I was eating the suhoor meal with my family when I was surprised by loud noises near our house,” one nearby resident told the Houthi’s Al Masirah TV.

“I went out and saw a large crowd of people.”

The crush, one of the deadliest worldwide in the past 10 years, happened just as optimism rises for Yemen’s war, following a major prisoner exchange and peace talks last week.