Weird History
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The Worst Human Stampedes

Updated May 16, 2020 43.7k views13 items

The importance of crowd control is never clearer than after a stampede, when a mass of people, usually driven into a panic by something, rushes toward something else. A large throng in a tight space, with little room to move, can quickly take on a life of its own, as history has demonstrated time after time. As one author describing the Bethnal Green Tube diaster in 1943 explains, "Stampedes start in the wild when animals, guided by herd-instinct, bolt away from perceived danger towards perceived safety. People, despite being supposedly more rational beings, join stampedes for the same reason. It is not so often the stampede that kills, but the resulting crush."

Some of the worst stampedes in history have taken place during the Hajj, the annual Muslim holy time when pilgrims are meant to make their way to Mecca. The huge crowds often overwhelm local structures like bridges and tunnels. When fears and rumors start to make their way through the mass of humanity, tragedy often follows. The 2015 stampede in Mina, Saudi Arabia, is an example of this, with too many people in too small a space, all moving too quickly. But disasters in Saudi Arabia are far from the only times crowds have panicked and trampled each other. Soccer games, festivals, holidays, nightclubs, and theaters have all seen stampedes, usually due to poor security, lack of regulation, and the human tendency to try to go back through the same entrance door in which they arrived. 

Because of the tragedies on this list, safety regulations in the United States are now some of the toughest in the world, but this wasn't always the case.

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  • 2003 Station Nightclub Fire

    A February 2003 club show by heavy metal band Great White turned into a stampede when illegal pyrotechnics ignited sound insulation foam on the ceiling of the Station nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island. The fire raced through the club in five minutes, and the crowd (which was over capacity) surged toward the front door. The stampede, fire, and smoke inhalation killed 100 people and injured 200 more. A series of arrests and lawsuits followed, with the club owners and band manager going to prison. 

  • 2001 Accra Sports Stadium Stampede

    A match between Ghana's two most popular soccer teams—Accra Hearts of Oak Sporting Club and Asante Kotoko—turned into a tragedy when overzealous riot control officers fired tear gas into a huge crowd, which had been throwing bottles and stones onto the field. The resulting panic caused a stampede that killed 127 fans. It's one of the worst stadium disasters in African history.

  • 1990 Hajj Stampede

    Another Hajj tragedy, a 1990 stampede took place near Mecca, Saudi Arabia, in a massively overcrowded pedestrian tunnel during the "stoning of the devil" ritual. A nearby bridge collapsed, causing seven people to fall into the crowd moving into the tunnel. “The fall of the seven spread terror, and the tremendous throngs of the pilgrims caused them all to tumble onto each other,” said one official. 1,426 pilgrims died in the stampede. At the time, King Fahd said that the incident “was God’s will, which is above everything.”

  • A football match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest turned into the biggest disaster in British sports history on April 15, 1989. A massive crush of people outside the stadium turned into a stampede when more than 3,000 fans were funneled into a standing-room-only area with a safety capacity of just 1,600. According to the official government investigation, "The dead, the dying and the desperate became interwoven in the sump at the front of the pens, especially by the gates. Those with strength left clambered over others submerged in the human heap and tried to climb out over the fence...The victims were blue...incontinent; their mouths open, vomiting; their eyes staring. A pile of dead bodies lay and grew outside gate 3."