At least five people have died after a heavy storm hit the Pukkelpop festival in Belgium yesterday afternoon, causing a stage to collapse. Various other stage equipment around the site, such as screens and lighting, as well as trees, fell and some other smaller tents also collapsed, with those trapped inside having to cut their way out. As well as those who died, upwards of 40 people were injured. It’s thought that around 60,000 people were in attendance at the festival when the storm hit.
It was at around 6.20pm that the Chateau Stage, the largest tent-covered stage, which was due to be headlined by Tune-Yards, collapsed as The Smith Westerns’ began their performance. The band’s frontman Cullen Omori tweeted: “Stage collapsed. [Guitarist] Max [Kakacek] almost got crushed by the tress. I hope Pukkelpop has insurance [because] all our shit is broke”. Although he later deleted that post and apologised, saying: “Apologise to anyone who mistook tweet. Wrote directly after running off stage. Just found out the extent of damage. All of [our] prayers go out to those hurt”.
Omori later 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”.
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.
A statement issued by the festival’s organiser, Flemish MEP Chokri Mahassine, this morning reads: “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”.
According to reports, the storm took just ten minutes to ravage the festival site. Many of those trapped in tents had been sheltering from the sudden onset of rain. One festival-goer told Le Soir newspaper that “the sky suddenly turned pitch black”.
This is the second stage collapse caused by a freak storm in less than a week. As previously reported, audience members at the Indiana State Fair in the US on Saturday evening were told that a storm was approaching but that it was still hoped country stars Sugarland could perform on the event’s Hoosier Lottery Grandstand stage. Shortly afterwards 60 to 70 mph winds struck, forcing stage rigging to come crashing to the ground, killing five and injuring dozens more.
Cheap Trick and The Flaming Lips have also experienced similar incidents at outdoor shows in recent weeks, though there were no injuries in either of those cases.
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