Around 40 people are believed to be dead after being crushed during a frantic stampede at a church service.

The nightmare incident happened at an event taking place at King’s Assembly Church in Port Harcourt, Nigeria,

A witness at the event told Punch it happened during the event “Shop For Free Programme” which aimed to distribute gifts and food amongst local residents to celebrate the fourth anniversary of the Church’s opening.

People apparently arrived yesterday to get in as early as possible while others arrived at 6:30 in the morning in order to get their hands on something good. The event was supposed to start by 9am, the witness claims.

Up to 40 people have been reported dead so far, including children, as families scrambled to grab free gifts, local media reports.

The source went on to say that a group of people who were meant to have a sports session arrived early at 8am and opened a small gate. Crowds then forced their way in unsafely.

According to the witness, most of the victims of the stampede were taken to the nearby military hospital in Port Harcourt.

“The incident happened this morning. The church invited people for its fourth edition of food and gift items distribution,” he said.

"Some came since Friday while many others came as early as 6.30am on Saturday.

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"Those who were engaged in sporting activities opened the small gate and the surging crowd wanted to gain access through the small gate and got stampeded.

In obvious distress, he claims to have counted about 21 dead bodies on the ground following the incident.

“This is not the first time the church is holding this programme, but the crowd since yesterday till this morning is much.

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“It was said that gift items and free food would be served. It is very painful."

Grace Iringe-Koko, acting representative of the state Police Command in the area has confirmed the incident took place this morning, but has yet to confirm how many people were killed during the stampede, nor how many were injured during the event.

Distressing images have emerged on Twitter of shoes and objects left by the victims of the incident, as well as the aftermath of upset locals who witnessed the horrific event.

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