Dar Es Salaam: Twenty people in Tanzania were trampled to death at an open-air evangelical Christian church service in the north of the country, officials said Sunday.
Kippi Warioba, District Commissioner in the northern town of Moshi, said the toll could rise as many are critically injured in the accident which took place Saturday.
“So far, 20 people have died, but the death toll could increase as there were also wounded, many of who are critical,” Warioba told this agency. He said at least 16 others were injured in the crush.
The tragedy happened when a crowd of worshippers was attending a prayer ceremony Saturday led by the popular preacher, Boniface Mwamposa, who heads the ‘Arise and Shine Ministry’.
The stampede occurred when Mwamposa, who calls himself the ‘Apostle’, poured what he said was holy oil on the ground and the crowd surged toward to touch it in the hope of being cured of sickness, witnesses said.
“The Apostle Boniface Mwamposa poured sacred anointing oil on the ground,” one witness, Jennifer Temu said. “Dozens of people immediately fell being jostled and trampled, and some died. We have counted 20 people killed, but there are also wounded.”
Another witness Peter Kilewo described the incident as ghastly. “It was horrible, people trampled on mercilessly, jostling each other with elbows,” he said.
Mwamposa, the preacher, fled the scene after the stampede, and police appealed in a broadcast on national television for him to hand himself in. Later Sunday afternoon he was arrested in this port city after he failed to give himself up.
“Boniface Mwamposa tried to flee after this incident, but as I speak, he is in the hands of the police,” Interior Minister George Simbachawene told a press conference.
Simbachawene said that the preacher had started the stamped by calling on the packed crowd to place their foot on the spot where he had poured the oil. “These are the words that led to these deaths,” said Simbachawene. “He must answer for it.”