Three dead as storm hits open-air music festival
August 19, 2011 - 9:12AM
A storm swept through a popular open-air music festival in eastern Belgium killing at least three people and injuring more than 70 others.
Concertgoers at the Pukkelpop festival described scenes of panic as the storm hit. They said hailstones larger than 1cm in diameter pelted the crowds, and concert structures buckled.
"It was frightening. It looked terrible. All the structures collapsed," said Brinnie Gardner, 20, of Auckland, New Zealand, who is on a tour of Europe with a friend. "There was panic. It was crazy."
Hugo Simons, Hasselt's head of emergency medical planning, told VRT radio that three people had died, 11 had been badly injured and 60 had sustained minor injuries as a result of the storm.
Organisers estimated that 60,000 people were at the three-day festival, which started on Thursday, when the storm broke.
Many were streaming out of the grounds after the storm, which turned the festival site into a scene of mud and destruction within about 10 minutes.
Video from the site showed stage equipment dangling in high winds as rain-soaked concertgoers at the music festival ran for cover. Trees and branches all around the area were downed, evidence of the sudden ferocity of the winds.
Ambulances ferried the seriously injured to nearby hospitals. Some of those lightly injured were being treated at a local sports complex. More than 20 ambulances were dispatched to the festival ground.
Images of the disaster showed fallen lighting scaffolds. Dutch NOS television reporter Rick Hoogkamp, who was attending the concert on Thursday, said several tents collapsed.
One of those who watched a tent collapse was Laura Elegeert, 17, of Saint-Nicolas, Belgium.
"It was utter confusion, mass panic," Elegeert said. "People were trying to get out of this tent that collapsed by using their pocket knives and cutting holes in the fabric."
Two cranes were brought in to try to lift the large tent late Thursday, but the ground appeared too swamped for them to reach the area.
Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme issued a statement offering his condolences to the families of the victims.
Chokri Mahassine, the organiser of the festival, said: "We have for now put the festival on hold until we understand the situation completely."
The three-day festival's line-up features internationally known acts, including Foo Fighters, Eminem and The Offspring.
This was the second deadly incident at an outdoor festival in a week. On Saturday, parts of a stage collapsed at the Indiana State Fair in the US state of Indianapolis, killing five people and injuring dozens when high winds hit the site.
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