A fire erupted at a popular nightclub in the Cameroon capital of Yaounde, setting off explosions and killing at least 17 people, 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.
A government statement said the fire erupted at the Livs Nightclub in the capital’s Bastos neighborhood, setting off a series of explosions. Workers said it was a short-circuit that customers initially thought was a fireworks show. The explosions went off once the blaze spread to a place where cooking gas was being stored, causing panic, the workers said.
The government said in addition to the deaths, others were seriously injured in the fire and were in intensive care in the hospital.
“We are still at the level of investigations to find out the names and nationalities of the dead and the wounded,” said government spokesman Rene Emmanuel Sadi.
In a statement, Cameroonian President Paul Biya called for calm and assured players and fans of their safety.
The Cameroon team will play a round of 16 knockout game against Comoros in Yaounde on Monday.
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.
Yaounde is the main host city and will stage another six games, including the final on Feb. 6.