YAOUNDE – A fire erupted at a popular nightclub in the Cameroon capital of Yaounde, setting off explosions that killed at least 17 people and seriously injured seven others, government officials said Sunday.
The tragedy comes as the central African country hosts thousands of soccer players, fans and officials from across the continent for the month-long African Cup of Nations soccer tournament.
It was not immediately clear what had sparked the fire at Liv's Nightclub Yaouba in the capital's Bastos neighborhood. Workers there initially said it was caused by a short circuit. However, a government statement later Sunday suggested that fireworks had ignited the building's roof, and then the fire spread to areas where cooking gas was stored.
“The tragedy, which was caused by the explosions from fireworks regularly used in these places, first consumed the ceiling of the building and then caused two strong explosions,” government spokesman Rene Emmanuel Sadi said.
The government spokesman said authorities were still trying to determine the names and nationalities of the dead and wounded. Eight people were taken to a Yaounde hospital, one of whom later died. The others remained in intensive care late Sunday.
In a statement, Cameroonian President Paul Biya called for calm and assured players and fans of their safety. His government later asked people to be remain vigilant “in order to avoid the occurrence of this kind of disaster, especially when our country is hosting a large-scale sporting event.”
The African Cup features teams from 24 countries and began on Jan. 9. It is the continent's biggest soccer tournament and Cameroon is hosting for the first time in 50 years. It was originally scheduled for 2021 but then was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Cameroon team will play a round of 16 knockout game against Comoros in Yaounde on Monday.
Yaounde is the main host city and will stage another six games, including the final on Feb. 6.