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Pukkelpop Festival Update – Five Dead, 70+ Hurt

This has not been a great week for news folks, I am so sorry.  I would much rather report on things like training baby bunnies how to program a GrandMA2, turning Congressmen and Senators into truck loaders and box pushers, and making a puppy the head of research and development for NASA.  I don’t know about any of that, but something to turn the mood from disaster to something other than disaster.

What has been posted so far on the wire about Pukkelpop is that now there are five people killed, seventy plus injured.  The Pukkelpop Festival has been officially cancelled.  From the Pukkelpop website, translated to English:

The festival site is completely closed. Today , all belongings from the lockers still be picked up at the information booth at the main entrance.From tomorrow we gather all belongings from the lockers and bring it in at the police van Hasselt, where they can be collected. The service lost property during the office hours at 011/26 73 15.  The campground is open until 24:00 on Saturday, August 20 . Tents and camping equipment can be picked up until then.

Just a few bits of information to clarify – people are reporting Pukkelpop as in Brussels – it’s actually in Hasselt, Belgium.

From the article at the Washington Post:

The death toll is up to five after a stage collapsed during a violent storm at Belgium’s Pukkelpop festival. The rest of the festival, which was scheduled to run through Saturday and attract around 60,000 fans to see bands such as Foo Fighters, Eminem, James Blake and more, was canceled after the incident, which also left 75 people injured. This marks the fourth major stage collapse incident of the summer, coming on the heels of last weekend’s tragedy at the Indiana State Fair.

From the AP wire, this time from Billboard:

The death toll rose to five and 75 injuries as a result of a fierce storm that hit the Pukkelpop music festival in Belgium yesterday (Aug. 18), causing three stage tents to collapse.

At 5:00 a.m. this morning, the organizers decided to cancel the rest of the festival out of respect for the victims and those mourning. The public has bee advised to leave the campsites and extra busses and trains are being ordered to evacuate the 40,000 remaining concertgoers.

On Thursday (August 18) at approximately 6:30 p.m., the festival and campground in Kiewit, Belgium, near the town of Hasselt roughly 50 miles east of Brussels, was hit with a massive rain and hailstorm that damaged three stages (The Chateau Tent, Boiler Room and Wablieft Tent) and the festival’s infrastructure as trees fell and debris swirled about.

Ambulances and cranes were called to the scene for help. The injured were brought to the Hasselt hospital, others to the Kiewit Sports complex for treatment. One festivalgoer said the cell phone network was completely jammed adding to the confusion.

The A.P. reported that officials said at a joint press conference on Friday with Hilde Claes, the mayor Hasselt and festival organizer Chokri Mahassin that meteorologists did not predict a storm of that intensity. “I have seen many tropical storms, Mahassine said, “but this was unprecedented.”

Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme offered condolences to the families of the victims and said authorities would continue to provide assistance in caring for the injured.

The city of Hasselt has issued an emergency information number 011-32-11-23 97 11.

Photos from the aftermath – I’ve reposted just a few, but please visit the International Business Times website for a humbling set of photos:

More report from the NYT:

“This started out as a huge festival with happy people partying and ended up as our biggest nightmare,” Hilde Claes, the mayor of Hasselt, and the festival organizer, Chokri Mahassine, said in a statement released Friday morning. “We want to emphasize that what happened here was exceptional and unforeseeable.”

The Associated Press reported that at a joint news conference on Friday, the mayor and the organizers of the festival said meteorologists had not predicted such an intense storm. “I have seen many tropical storms,” Mr. Mahassine said, “but this was unprecedented.”

Those who attended on Thursday night said they had never experienced weather so severe.

Christophe Van Impe, a Belgian journalist attending the event, said the storm hit just an hour after he had seen the group Explosions in the Sky perform. “It was like a scene out of the film ‘Twister,’ ” he told a Belgian newspaper, La Capital, in a firsthand account published on that paper’s Web site on Friday. “The audience began to panic, especially when two enormous pylons holding up a giant screen collapsed.”

“All of a sudden, a 15-meter rip appeared in the tent behind the artists, who ran for it. That’s when the structure collapsed onto the audience,” he wrote.

Another journalist present at the scene, Nicolas Capart, said the sky turned green, then yellow and then black as the storm intensified. “The field we were in was very exposed,” Capart told a live blog hosted by La Libre Belgique, a Belgian newspaper, on Friday. “There was nothing to block the wind. I thought we were in the eye of a cyclone.” Hail the size of table tennis balls fell while trees crashed down on cars, Mr. Capart told the blog by phone from the Pukkelpop event.

Many of those camping out to attend the rock festival were forced to spend the night in the flooded fields and were still struggling on Friday to leave the area, amid huge traffic jams.

Dr. Pascal Vranckx of Jessa Hospital in Hasselt said on Friday that many of those injured had been hit on the head by debris, and that three patients were in critical condition at the hospital, “fighting for their lives.”

“Those seriously injured have wounds caused by different objects which flew through the air, by debris and by trees,” Dr. Vranckx said, according to an article published online Friday by La Libre Belgique. “The people in a critical condition are suffering from head, chest and stomach wounds, which could cause hemorrhages.”

Stay tuned, I’ll keep posting updates as I get them.