At least five people have died and many more injured at the 60,000 capacity Pukklepop Festival in Belgium after a storm swept through the popular open-air music festival in the town of Hasselt, 50 miles east of Brussels. The storm hit the site in the late afternoon on Thursday 18th August. Concertgoers described scenes of panic as the sky darkened, the winds whipped, rain poured, hailstones nearly half an inch across pelted the crowds, and concert structures buckled. The worst affected area was the Chateau Stage which collapsed as the Smith Westerns began their set. Lead singer Cullen Omori told Pitchfork: “We had just finished the first song of our set at Pukkelpop when the stage/tent started shaking. We simply thought it was a storm passing through. I made a comment about Cheap Trick, and we were about to play the next one, when our tour manager yelled at me to run off the stage. Right then the tress collapsed one foot in front of Max. At this point we thought only the stage broke, not the tent. Amid the chaos it was hard to tell exactly what had happened, but after the rescue teams started coming in it became clear that there were severe injuries and we are now being told there are reports of multiple deaths. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families who lost loved ones in today’s tragedy”.
Hugo Simons, Hasselt’s head of emergency medical planning, told VRT radio that three people had died, 11 had been severely injured and 60 had sustained light injuries as a result of the storm and the numbers have since moved upwards. 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. Dutch NOS television reporter Rick Hoogkamp, who was attending the concert Thursday, said several tents collapsed. An AP reporter saw concession stands blown down and a large food tent spread across the ground. Initially only the remainder of Thursday’s shows, including Foo Fighters’ headline performance, were cancelled, but as the death toll rose and the extent of the damage became clearer, organisers decided to call off the whole event and Chokri Mahassine, the organiser of the festival who is a MEP initially said, “We have for now put the festival on hold until we understand the situation completely” Then confirmed the event’s cancellation saying “Pukkelpop is in deep mourning. We truly sympathise with the families and friends of the victims. Words are not enough. We have struggled with the [initial] decision to continue the festival. Therefore we have decided to cancel Pukkelpop 2011. What has happened is very exceptional and could not have been predicted. We are deeply moved by all the spontaneous support the festival goers and the organisation have received … We ask everyone to understand that this decision was extremely difficult to make”. The news follows on from the disaster at the Indiana State Fair in the US on Saturday when a storm hit just before country stars Sugarland were due to perform on the event’s Hoosier Lottery Grandstand stage killing five and injuring dozens more, and a stage collapse during a storm whilst Cheap Trick were onstage at the Ottawa Bluesfest in July