As festival-goers packed a bridge for a riverside fireworks show, a stray rocket sent a high-tension line crashing into the crowd, unleashing 10,000 volts that electrocuted 35 people and sent many of their bodies bursting into flames.
The dead at the Wednesday night festival in southern Peru included a policeman electrocuted trying to pull a victim away from the electric current. In the chaos, sobbing survivors collapsed on the cobblestone plaza or ran in panic, crushing others beneath them.
“It was as if I were being shaken from head to foot. Everyone was shaking. The whole street had electricity,” said Silvia Condori, who was trapped by the current when the fleeing crowd knocked her down among the burning corpses, breaking her leg.
A friend tried to pull the 22-year-old woman to her feet, but the voltage knocked him away. She made it up on her own, electricity still coursing through her legs.
“I thought I was going to lose consciousness,” she said. “But I began to scream and when I heard myself screaming, I knew I was still alive.”
The accident, which sent 42 people to the hospital with burns, occurred just before midnight as residents of Arequipa were celebrating the 456th anniversary of the founding of the city.
All of the victims were Peruvian, police said, although the annual festival attracts thousands of tourists, some of them foreign.
Festival-goers were crammed together on the cobblestone Grau Bridge to watch the fireworks and a folk music show along the banks of Chili River when the rocket went astray.
The rocket hit the power line and exploded, police said. The cable snapped, exposing its wiring, and fell onto the bridge. The electrical current surged through the crowd, felling dozens.
People panicked and ran, knocking over others in the crowd.
“I was with my wife,” one survivor said in a television interview. “A shell burst and broke the cable, and that’s when the fire began.
“In the confusion I lost my wife,” he said, crying. “I couldn’t pull her out, and when I saw her again she was charred.”
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