Visiting the Nyayo National Stadium on Saturday evening for the Gor Mahia versus AFC Leopards was the perfect opportunity to watch these two perennial rivals, given that it is a derby many would not have wished to miss.
But the game almost lost all its importance before it had even started, as news started trickling in about a stampede at Gate Two that, in the end, left eight people dead and scores more injured.
An hour before the match, there was already an immense crowd gathered around the gates, most of them wearing the green shirt of Gor or the blue and white stripped one of the Leopards.
But there were just three gates with no turnstiles.
One gate for 8,000 people and just one ambulance for the whole 20,000 plus crowd? You do the mathematics.
But as gross as this Saturday horror may seem, it could have been avoided altogether.
According to Peter Ngugi, an Emergency Plus (E-Plus) medical technician, crowds, just like individuals, display various types of personality traits and individual tribulations that can create stress and may lead to disastrous outcomes if handled incorrectly.
“People need to be trained on how to handle themselves when faced with this kind of disasters,” says Ngugi, who was part of the rescuing team at Nyayo on Saturday.
“In addition, crowd problems can create chaos and danger if not taken seriously and dealt with appropriately,” he added.
While it was expected to have at least four ambulances for the match, only one was available and, according to Ngugi, this was the genesis of the whole problem.
Bad crowd management
“For any top match, be it a league match or even an international match, there ought to be more than three ambulances,” he says.
“Have two in the stadium and two outside, so that in case of an emergency, both fans and the players will be catered for.
“But that wasn’t the case on Saturday, which at some point, even the players lacked stretchers as these were being used to evacuate the injured fans,” he recalls.
Ngugi, who has been involved in numerous evacuation exercises, adds that the incident occurred purely due to bad crowd management, as well as ‘mishandling’ of the victims by some of the rescuers.
“When there’s an incident, the crowds should stay calm and let the paramedics do their work,” he advises.
“When there are multiple casualties, rescue operations should be performed in phases, as mishandling the patient might aggravate the injury,” Ngugi in an interview at the Nation Centre on Monday.
Ngugi says that had there been a triage area, more lives could have been saved.
“This is an area where preliminary examinations are done to the injured. Had such an area been there, we would have saved many lives. But above all areas of improvement, the stadia management will have to address the issue of the parking lot as well as ensuring there are several emergency gates during every match.
“There was no room for us to move out of the stadium, since parked cars were blocking our way out and people had to lift the cars out of the way and by this time, we lost the lady (Winfred Karimi),” recalls Ngugi.
“There is no way a stadium can lack an emergency gate.
“Ironically, the guy who was charged with opening the gates, was nowhere to be seen and I really wonder whether some Nyayo gates have ever been opened,” wondered the paramedic.
E-Plus, a freshly-launched commercial arm of the Red Cross, provides emergency health services using Advanced Life Support ambulances or mobile ICUs (Intensive Care Units). The E-Plus ambulances are manned by professionally trained paramedics who are able to handle the equipment in these ambulances.
“Life cannot be compromised. You have to have the best equipment reachable to every Kenyan because each person deserves to be handled carefully during an emergency,” said Nelly Githaka, the E-Plus general manager.
“Emergency preparedness is a must.”
E-Plus ambulances had a lot of difficulty accessing the stadium as, despite having been approached to provide back-up emergency services at the match, they could hardly access the stadium as some club officials viewed them as “distractions.”