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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 August 2005, 15:53 GMT 16:53 UK
Witnesses describe stampede horror
Shoes and debris left on the bridge in Baghdad
The bridge was packed with Shia pilgrims heading to a festival
People who witnessed a stampede on a bridge in Baghdad that killed more than 1,000 people and injured hundreds of others have been speaking of scenes of mayhem.

Several survivors said the panic began quickly spreading among hundreds of thousands of Shia pilgrims after someone said a suicide bomber was in the crowd.

"We were on the bridge. It was so crowded. Thousands of people were surrounding me," Fadhel Ali, 28, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.

Rumours

"We heard that a suicide attacker was among the crowd. Everybody was yelling so I jumped from the bridge into the (Tigris) river, swam and reached the bank," said Mr Ali, still standing bare-footed and soaking wet.

Most of them seem to have suffocated, many of the bodies had injuries caused from being pushed and shoved to the ground, where people would then tread on them
Hospital doctor

"I saw women, children and old men falling after me into the water."

An Iraqi man at the scene said he had heard the rumours circulating.

"We were at the Holy city of Al-Kadhimiya and then some people said that a car bomb was going to explode.

"There were thousands on people on the bridge. People got scared and began to panic. They began trampling on each other."

Tensions were already running high following a mortar attack that had earlier killed at least 16 people in the crowd.

There were also rumours that some pilgrims had been given poisoned juice or water to drink by suspected insurgents.

People were therefore not accepting any liquid to drink, making their walk through the sweltering Baghdad streets exhausting and disorientating.

"Hundreds of people started running, and some threw themselves off the bridge into the river," a police source was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

"Many elderly died immediately as a result of the stampede but dozens drowned. Many bodies are still in the river and boats are working on picking them up."

'Crushed feet'

Television pictures showed dozens of men jumping into the muddy river to search for survivors and to recover the floating bodies.

A doctor at a hospital treating victims of the disaster told the BBC News website that it was not clear in some cases whether people were alive or dead.

"I saw the dead bodies in the hospital as they came in," he said. "There were so many the doctors were laying them along the pavement.

"People were having to step around the bodies, many of which had blood around them.

"Most of them seem to have suffocated. Many of the bodies had injuries caused from being pushed and shoved to the ground, where people would then tread on them."

He said many survivors had badly crushed feet as it was traditional to walk barefoot over the bridge.

Abdul Walid, 54, forced to leap from the bridge, told Agence France Presse that women and children were among those trampled underfoot.

Lying dazed on a hospital floor he said, "My son was on my shoulders, I don't know where he is now.

"Everybody was suffocating to death so I eventually had to jump."




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