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At least 78 killed in Yemen crowd surge during packed Ramadan charity event

A view of houses in the old city of Sanaa, Yemen on June 15, 2022. (Khaled Abdullah/Reuters via CNN)

(CNN) — Dozens of people were killed in a crowd surge in Yemen’s capital on Wednesday as needy residents flocked to receive charity handouts from local merchants during the holy month of Ramadan, officials have confirmed.

Video of the tragedy in Sanaa showed a chaotic scene with dozens of people packed tightly together, unable to move and shouting for help.

Those trapped form a wall of bodies with some desperately stretching out their arms for help. A couple of men who are free can be seen attempting to pull others out of the crush.

“What happened tonight is a tragic and painful accident, as dozens of people were killed due to a large stampede of a number of citizens caused by a random distribution of sums of money by some merchants and without coordination with the Ministry of Interior,” the spokesman of the Houthi-run Ministry of Interior, Abdul-Khaleq al-Ajri, said in the statement.

At least 78 people were killed in the crush and dozens injured, Mutahar al-Marouni, the director of the Houthi-run Health office in Sanaa, told the Houthi-run Al-Masirah news agency.

According to Reuters, hundreds of people had crowded into a school to receive donations of 5,000 Yemeni Riyal (about $9).

The incident came just a few days ahead of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. During this time of the month, people start giving away Zakat al-Fitr, or the Zakat of Breaking the Fast of Ramadan, to people who are in need.

Police and rescue teams rushed to the scene, according to the Interior Ministry statement.

“The dead and injured people were transferred to hospitals, and two merchants in charge of the matter were arrested,” the statement added.

The head of the Houthi Supreme Political Council, Mahdi Al-Mashat, ordered an investigation into the incident on Thursday.

The Houthi-run General Authority for Zakat announced in a statement it would give one million Yemeni Riyal ( about $4,000) to each family of the crowd surge victims.

It also said it would take care of the treatment of those injured and pay 200,000 Yemeni Riyal ( about $800) to each injured person.