22 young people were found dead at a nightclub in South Africa early Sunday morning, authorities said.
Police were investigating after at least 22 bodies were discovered inside a popular township tavern close to East London city, area health officials said. No cause of death was immediately known.
Unathi Binqose, the spokesman for the Department of Community Safety in Eastern Cape Province, said initial findings suggested that there was a stampede at the overcrowded club, according to the New York Times.
“What has happened can be equated to a massacre,” East London mayor, Xola Pakati said in a statement.
South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa reportedly expressed his condolences.
Brig. Tembinkosi Kinana, a police spokesman, said the police had received a call about 4 a.m. local time reporting deaths at the tavern, the newspaper reported. He said the tavern held a large party on Saturday night that served as a celebration of South Africa recently lifting its mask requirement for public places, according to the Times.
Other reports suggested the young people had been attending a party to mark the end of winter school exams.
Earlier, Brigadier Tembinkosi Kinana said police were alerted about an unspecified incident at Scenery Park, about two miles from the city center. The dead men and women were between 18 and 20 years old, Kinan said.
“The circumstances under which they died are under investigation,” Kinana said, adding it was too early to come to a conclusion on their cause of death.
A 17-year-old girl named “Lolly” who lives close to the tavern, said the venue was a popular hangout with teenagers, but that she and others in the area believe it should be closed after the deaths.
“Everyone wants it closed down because they sell alcohol to under-age children,” she said. “Everyone is angry, everyone is sad because of what happened.”