(CNN) Dozens of people were killed in a stampede in Yemen’s capital Wednesday to collect charity handouts from local merchants during the holy month of Ramadan, officials confirmed.
Video of the tragedy in Sana’a showed a chaotic scene of dozens of people packed tightly together, unable to move and screaming for help.
The trapped people formed a tangled wall of bodies, some reaching out their hands for help. A freed couple is then seen trying to pull the others out of the deadly attraction. Images of the aftermath showed shoes and sandals piled up in piles and scarves scattered on the floor.
“What happened tonight was a tragic and painful accident, dozens of people were killed due to the random distribution of money by some merchants and the massive crowding of a large number of citizens without coordination with the Ministry of Interior.” Abdul-Khaliq al-Ajri, a spokesman for the Houthi-run interior ministry, said in a statement.
At least 78 people were killed and dozens wounded in the crackdown, Mutahar al-Marouni, director of the Houthi-run health office in Sana’a, told the Houthi-run al-Masira news agency.
According to Reuters, hundreds of people flocked to the school to receive donations of 5,000 Yemeni riyals (about $9).
The incident took place days before the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. At this time of the month, people start giving Zakat al-Fitr, or Zakat for breaking the Ramadan fast, to those in need.
Nase Shaker, a journalist at the scene, told CNN that “a very long line of people” had gathered at the entrance to the school, which was used for food and financial aid. They started queuing up after sunset hoping to get a donation, he said.
When the distribution officers arrived and opened the door, “a lot of people poured into the school.”
“It’s devastating to find people sacrificing their lives for just $10,” Shaker said. “People are very hungry, people are very poor.”
Police and rescue teams have rushed to the spot, according to a Home Ministry statement.
“The dead and injured have been shifted to hospitals and two businessmen responsible for the matter have been arrested,” the statement added.
Mahdi al-Mashad, head of the Houthi Supreme Political Council, ordered an investigation into the incident on Thursday.
The Houthi-run General Authority for Zakat announced in a statement that it would pay one million Yemeni riyals (about $4,000) to each family affected by the stampede.
It said it would take care of the treatment of the injured and pay 200,000 Yemeni riyals (about $800) to each injured person.
The world’s worst humanitarian crisis
Yemen is the worst country in the world, according to the UN Humanitarian crisis. The nine-year war has killed thousands, destroyed the economy and left 21.6 million people — two-thirds of the country’s population — in need of humanitarian assistance. Tens of thousands of Yemenis are starving, UN says.
Conflict of the country It started as a civil war in 2014, Houthi forces stormed the capital, Sanaa, toppling the internationally recognized and Saudi-backed government. It turned into a wider war in 2015 when the Saudi-led coalition intervened to try to defeat the Houthis.
But it eventually did A proxy war Iran — accused of arming the Houthis — is between Saudi Arabia and a key arena in their contest for regional influence.
On Sunday, a Saudi delegation arrived in Sana’a for talks with the Houthis Aimed at securing a permanent ceasefire. Last Friday, the three-day prisoner exchange talks yielded nearly 900 prisoners from both sides and yielded huge results. The Houthi chief negotiator, Mohammed Abdulsalam, tweeted on Friday that the talks were “intense and positive”.“
Yemeni journalist Shaker said Wednesday’s tragedy was the result of years of economic frustration and the international community “must act now” to end the war.
“People are no longer killed by airstrikes or shelling by warring parties. Now they die because they are rushing to get food,” he said.