DUISBURG, Germany – Crowds of people streaming into a techno music festival surged through an already jammed entry tunnel on Saturday, setting off a panic that killed 18 people and injured 80 at an event meant to celebrate love and peace.
The circumstances of the stampede at the famed Love Parade festival in Duisburg in western Germany were still not clear even hours after the chaos, but it appeared that some or most of the 18 had been crushed to death.
Authorities also suggested that some of the people killed or injured might have attempted to flee the crowd by jumping over a barrier and falling several meters. Witnesses described a desperate scene, as people piled up on each other or scrambled over others who had fallen in the crush.
Criticism quickly fell on city officials for allowing only one entrance to the grounds of a hugely popular event that drew hundreds of thousands of people to dance, watch floats and listen to DJs spin. German media said 1.4 million people attended but that figure could not be immediately confirmed.
City officials chose not to evacuate the site, fearing it might spark more panic, and many people continued partying, unaware of the deaths.
Emergency workers had trouble getting to the victims, hampered by the huge crowds. The area was a hectic scene, with bodies lying on the ground and people milling around or attending to them. Rescue workers carried away the injured as techno music thundered in the background.
Local media reported that the cell phone system in Duisburg broke down temporarily and frantic parents trying to reach their children instead drove to the scene to look for them.
However, most streets downtown were blocked by police and the highways leading to the city were jammed. Several media outlets also reported that rescue helicopters had problems taking away the heavily injured because there was not enough space for them to land.
Police commissioner Juergen Kieskemper said that just before the stampede occurred at about 5 p.m. local time, police closed off the area where the parade was being held because it was already overcrowded. They told revelers over loudspeakers to turn around and walk back in the other direction before the panic broke out, he said.
Eyewitness Udo Sandhoefer told n-tv television that even though no one else was being let in, people still streamed into the tunnel, causing “a real mass panic.”
“At some point the column (of people) got stuck, probably because everything was closed up front, and we saw that the first people were already lying on the ground,” he said.