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Stadium deaths rise to seven as five are identified

BUSINESS
By | October 25th 2010

By Cyrus Ombati And Ally Jamah

They were trampled to death as their star players battled out, oblivious of the stampede out there. The sea of humanity with whom they would have watched crushed them.

The killer wave was overwhelming, the confusion astounding, and death inevitable. The well built and the average man and woman went down — gasping for breath and something to hold on.

But they died, sprawled on the ground as mangled heap of humanity — and enduring indictment of our crude disaster management measures. Even when the rescuers tried to rush them to hospital, the human and vehicular traffic formed a maze, which they would not weave through. In death, they left us with the probing question: Did they have to die that way?

Relatives of Victor Juma Otieno console his girlfriend Sweeny Ogendo moments after they viewed his body at the Kenyatta Nationa Hospital mortuary on Sunday. Photo: Govedi Asutsa/Standard

That was the question searing through the hearts of parents, children and relatives of the seven dead, and the dozens injured when AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia renewed their traditional rivalry.

The talk of the match was supposed to be the outcome and how the players tackled each other, but it ended up being how poor crowd management methods and dreadful safety measures were.

Waited on queue

Winfred Karimi Kinywa, 21, an Information Technology student at Railways Training Institute, perished. The final year avid soccer fan arrived at the stadium by 2pm. She was trampled outside the stadium as she waited on the queue. Her colleagues from the college escaped. After the melee, they looked for her in vain, and their worst fears were confirmed on the cold slabs of City Mortuary.

Winfred’s cousin Ken Bundi says he received a call Sunday morning from Winfred’s classmates, who broke the sad news.

He visited the mortuary. He revealed that Winfred, who was to apply for a US Green Card, called him on Saturday morning to say it was a must she attends the match.

He said Winfred was busy looking for internship at various companies, and she had promises. Winfred was the only female who died in the stampede blamed on poor planning.

At the mortuary, his other cousin Stephen Kimathi was stunned by the tragedy. Her colleagues, who were with her at the stadium, said they had obtained the tickets and were on the queue when the stampede happened.

Taxi driver David Ochieng Oundo, a fan of Gor Mahia, had told his wife Helen Atieno when he left his Kibera house on Saturday morning the match was a must watch for him. Oundo, 36 and a father of two, was a taxi driver at the Kenyatta Market. He called his wife later at about 6pm. “He said he had bought the ticket but could not get in because there was confusion and the crowd was huge. I told him to update me,” said Atieno.

Atieno wept as she narrated the story to journalists who visited her house on Sunday. She said when she saw on TV that seven people had been killed, she tried to call her husband in vain. She then decided to go to Kenyatta National Hospital and check if he was there.

She later got to the City mortuary, where she was informed that four bodies had been brought from the stadium, but her husband’s name was missing. “We went into the mortuary and identified his body. It was the most terrible thing that I have experienced,” she said.

Victor Juma Ochieng’, a fourth-year Sociology student of the University of Nairobi, also succumbed to injuries. The 27-year-old fan of Gor Mahia, who lived with his elder brother in Doonholm, had also declared he couldn’t miss the game. He asked his friend Collins Omondi Owour to buy tickets for him and his girlfriend. “I arrived at the stadium at 4pm and Victor came at 6pm. As I was going out to hand him his tickets, I noticed a big commotion at Gate II, and soon after the big gate came crashing. I ran for safety,” recalled Owour.

A few minutes later, when Owour tried to call Victor, an unfamiliar voice answered his phone, and informed him that Victor was badly injured.

“When I finally got out, I found Victor lying on the ground and receiving first aid. He couldn’t speak. No one was in a hurry to take him to hospital. I wanted to use my car, but there was no exit. A few minutes later, he died,” he said with tears welling in his eyes. Victor’s girlfriend Sweeny Ogendo would have also perished had she not declined to join him because she was to be on a plane to Lodwar the following morning.

A somber mood engulfed the Kenytatta National Hospital mortuary as Sweeny received her late boyfriend’s green Gor Mahia T-shirt that he was supposed to have worn during the game. According to friends, Victor loved Gor Mahia with passion, and rarely missed its matches.

He even travelled to Naivasha two weeks ago to watch its duel with Karuturi Sports.

Family members were allowed to view the body at KNH mortuary and witnesses reported that his chest cavity had collapsed completely, with all ribs smashed.

“I feel a lot of pain that my brother would lose his life so carelessly, just because of the poor safety measures put in place by organisers of the match,” said victor’s elder sister Larisa Akinyi Otieno.

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