At least eight people died and dozens of people were injured after a wave of crowds on the opening night of a music festival in Houston, Texas.
Panic erupted after crowds began to press towards the front of the stage at rapper Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival, emergency officials said.
Eleven people were taken to hospital in cardiac arrest and eight died. Some victims are just 10 years old.
About 50,000 people attended the outdoor event, which was canceled.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo described what had happened as an “extremely tragic night.”
“Our hearts are broken,” he said. “People go to these events looking for a good time, a chance to relax, to create memories – it’s not the kind of event you go to where you expect to find victims.”
Astroworld said in a statement that their hearts were with the “festival family … especially those we lost and their loved ones”, and thanked the local emergency services for their response.
The incident began around 9:15 pm on Friday (02:15 GMT on Saturday), Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña said.
“The crowd started squeezing towards the front of the stage and people started panicking,” he told reporters.
As the crowds began to cause injuries to people, panic increased, the official added.
According to the Houston Chronicle, Travis Scott, who founded the festival, stopped several times during his 75-minute performance when he spotted struggling fans near the front of the stage.
The rapper asked security to make sure they were okay and to help them get out of the crowd. Emergency vehicles, flashing lights and alarms, cut through the crowd multiple times, the newspaper said.
The amateur concert video appears to show fans jumping into an emergency vehicle through the crowd as the performance continues on stage.
Organizers stopped the event when it was evident that many people had been injured, but the sheer scale of casualties quickly overwhelmed existing medical facilities, the fire chief added.
Fans huddled against each other near the front of the main stage, eyewitnesses told the Chronicle. In some places, people were so crowded that they started hyperventilating or struggling to leave.
“We cared about each other to avoid separating,” said one male concert goer. “If you let go, you could easily walk away.”
A concert goer told the newspaper she had never been to a “music festival with so many angry people.”
About 300 people were treated on Friday for injuries such as cuts and bruises. Judge Hidalgo said “many” of those killed at the festival were “tragically young”.
A reunification center has been set up at the Wyndham Houston Hotel for families who have not heard from loved ones at the festival.
On Friday, hundreds of people rushed around the perimeter of the event, shooting down metal detectors and a security check area to enter the concert. ABC13 news reports.
Saturday was supposed to be the second and last day of the festival.
“Nobody could dream of it,” Houston Police Department chief Troy Finner said. “But we’re here, and I think it’s very important that none of us speculate. Nobody has all the answers tonight.”
“People near the front were in danger”
Joey Guerra, music critic for the Houston Chronicle, spoke to BBC Radio 5 Live
I had been there for most of the day and there had been minor incidents during most of the day. When the gates opened, people went through and jumped metal detectors, and some people were injured like that. I have seen a couple of times people being carried on a stretcher. I’m not sure what the reasons were.
During the Travis Scott set there were multiple times where you could see emergency vehicles with their lights on going through the crowd, but they cut and the show continued. Travis Scott himself interrupted the show several times to indicate people near the front who were in trouble or needed help and would ask security to come and help them. I don’t think he was aware of the extent of what was going on.
Travis Scott is a rapper from Houston, so this was especially special for our city.
This is the third year of the festival. It’s kind of a tribute to an amusement park called Astroworld that was very popular here in Houston and is no longer there. He somehow re-imagined the whole concept. There are rides, games, different things that people who knew Astroworld then will recognize here, and every year it has gotten bigger.
Live Nation, the organizer of the event, did not immediately respond to a request for comment, reports the Reuters news agency.
Astroworld is an annual event that has been held in NRG Park since 2018, although it was put on hiatus last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Travis Scott, 29, made his big breakthrough in 2013 and has had it ever since eight Grammy Award nominations. He has a son with worldly celebrity Kylie Jenner.
Other acts scheduled at the festival over the weekend included rappers Chief Keef and 21 Savage and Australian rock act Tame Impala.
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