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Stampede mars IKEA London opening


LONDON, England -- Would-be bargain-hunters suffered heat exhaustion as a crowd of thousands forced a flagship IKEA superstore in London to close on opening night.

Cars were abandoned on the roadside and customers were crushed in the chaos that ensued early Thursday after the furniture store in north London launched at midnight.

"There were 500 people behind me and they were all trying to get through a three-foot gap," shopper Jolene Cooper told Sky News about her experience outside the store's entrance.

"They kept on trying to shut the doors and not let anyone in, so all the people behind were pushing me. I was really scared."

The new outlet in Edmonton, the biggest IKEA in England, was due to trade for a full 24 hours, but shut up shop within about 30 minutes after an "unforeseen volume of customers" descended in the early hours.

A spokeswoman for the Swedish furniture giant said it was decided to close for the safety of customers and staff, and that the store would remain shut until further notice, UK's Press Association reported.

"IKEA Edmonton regrets to announce that a decision has been taken to close the store on opening night.

"The decision was made in the interests of health and safety for all IKEA customers and co-workers," she said.

Up to 6,000 people flocked to the opening of the store, which was touting cut-price offers throughout the 24-hour opening, including a leather sofa for £35 ($65) until 3 a.m. The company had expected 2,000 customers.

A London Ambulance Service spokesman said nine ambulances were sent to the scene following reports of crushing outside the store.

One person sustained crush injuries, while four others sustained minor injuries. Others were left in shock by the pushing and shoving, but no one was seriously hurt.

A man in his early 20s was stabbed in a car park close to the store, in an apparently unrelated incident. It is not thought he had been attending the opening.

He was also taken to hospital and was said to be in a stable condition. His injuries were not life-threatening.

A spokesman for Scotland Yard said many people had abandoned their vehicles in the middle of the A406, London's north circular highway, making their way to the store on foot, causing severe traffic difficulties.

In a statement this morning, an IKEA spokeswoman said the company was "deeply shocked, upset and concerned" at what had happened.

She said the store opened for the one-off 24-hour spectacular at 12:01 a.m. and was forced to close at 12:42 a.m., with "unprecedented" crowd numbers estimated at 5,000 to 6,000.

She added: "In the planning process prior to the launch of the new store IKEA Edmonton had direct liaison with the police and Enfield council. On the evening traffic management, crowd control and the emergency services were in place.

"However at 12:01 a.m., the official time of opening, people outside of the controlled queue surged forward, causing a crush at the entrance to the store."

She said police had confirmed a number of injuries, with the stabbing occurring "off Ikea premises" in a separate incident.

She added: "IKEA are deeply shocked, upset and concerned at what occurred. Ikea take the safety and security of its customers and employees very seriously at all times.

"Having opened 12 stores prior to Edmonton in the UK, IKEA could never have predicted and are genuinely overwhelmed at the outcome of the evening and the consequences that the opening of a home furnishing retailer has had.

"Under the current circumstances, IKEA Edmonton will remain closed until further notice. All advertised opening offers have been withdrawn. IKEA would like to express their concern and regret at what has happened at the opening of our new store."

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