The Worst Human Stampedes

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.

Photo: Metaweb / GNU Free Documentation License

  • 2015 Mina Stampede

    More than 760 Muslim pilgrims died in a stampede during the Hajj on September 24, 2015. It happened in the Mina valley, located just three miles from Mecca, as two million pilgrims participated in the event. Mina is the site of the Jamarat, where pillars are set into in a four-level pedestrian bridge and pilgrims "stone" the pillars with pebbles to reject the devil. As one observer said, “People were packed so tightly that they could not breathe and started tumbling over each other, and many became trapped underfoot.” Said another, decribing the aftermath: “The situation was one of sheer hopelessness. Those who could afford to stay and search for their dead loved ones did so. The others just had to go home.”

  • 2010 Phnom Penh Stampede

    A stampede during the 2010 three-day Water Festival, known as Bon Om Touk, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, killed more than 340 people. Said one attendee, describing the horrific indicent: "But there was no air, I could not breathe. I got pushed to the side of the bridge, people were falling all around, on to my arm, and I had to let go." Thousands of festival-goers had crowded onto a tiny island where an evening concert was being held, with people using a small footbridge to both enter and exit. The exact cause of the stampede was not confirmed. Some speculated that it began when word swept among the crowd that the bridge was about to collapse. The panic also may have started when the lights strung from the suspension ropes began sparking. Hundreds, mostly from rural areas, were trampled and suffocated as a result of the stampede. Later, Buddhist monks held a vigil at the bridge, offering prayers for the deceased.

  • 2005 Baghdad Bridge Stampede

    On August 31, 2005, around one million pilgrims were marching toward a shrine, located in northern Baghdad. The crowd had to cross a bridge over the Tigris River. As one eyewitness said, "People swarmed the bridge. There had to be a search operation at the end of the bridge, so crowds gathered and a certain scream caused chaos ... and this sorrowful incident took place."

    The mass of people was already tense, thanks to a mortar attack earlier that day, so all it took to touch off the panic was a rumor of suicide bombers. A massive crush resulted, with thousands rushing toward the closed bridge. People were trampled, crushed against the sides of the bridge, or fell into the river. In total, 965 people were crushed to death or drowned.

  • 2004 Jamarat Bridge Stampede

    Yet another "stoning of the devil" stampede on the Jamarat Bridge took place in 2004, with 250 pilgrims passing away. An obstruction of personal belongings caused a human backup, and when pilgrims tried to get around it, a crush started, trampling people in front of it. Following the incident, numerous safety measures were applied to the bridge's design. Still, in 2006, another stampede occurred, as 380 people perished.

  • 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.