A wind and hail storm battered the famed Pukkelpop Festival in Hasselt, Belgium on Thursday, killing at least three people and injuring dozens, according to a medical response official. There is local news video of the storm's initial aftermath showing stage equipment dangling in high winds with festival goers running for cover. Huge sound and audio towers appear toppled in the footage.
Hugo Simons, the head of emergency planning in Hasselt told VRT radio that three people had died with more than 70 injured, according to the AP. The Le Soir newspaper is reporting that the official death is at two.
According to Le Soir, one person died on the festival ground and another in a campground. Initial Belgian reports indicate a large tent collapsed and the roof of another flew away, while "big screens have fallen … and several trees uprooted in the violent rain and wind." According to a source, at least one tree fell onto a stage and another crushed a food stand. The muddy ground kept two cranes from reaching the tent.
The dangerous portion of the storm reportedly lasted only 10 minutes. In new footage uploaded to YouTube, festival goers are seen dancing to the music until large hail starts to fall.
Chokri Mahassine, the organizer of the festival, told reporters "we have for now put the festival on hold until we understand the situation completely." A message on the festival's website reads, "Tonight we'll clean up the site and safely so we can start again tomorrow at 11 pm. A new start for Pukkelpop 2011." Hasselt is about 50 miles east of Brussels.
The Chicago indie band Smith Westerns were on one of the side stages when the storms rolled through.
"We had just finished the first song of our set at Pukkelpop when the stage/tent started shaking and simply thought it was a storm passing through," Smith Westerns frontman Cullen Omori says in a statement (via Pitchfork). "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 1 foot in front of [guitarist] Max [Kakacek]. 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."
Jared Leto of the band 30 Seconds to Mars reported from the ground via Twitter as the storm was happening.
News of this festival tragedy comes less than a week after the deadly stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair. Five people died Saturday (Aug. 13) when a gust of wind toppled the stage in Indianapolis, just moments before headliners Sugarland was about to perform.
Started in 1985, Pukkelpop has featured headliners like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Neil Young, Metallica and the Beastie Boys. Foo Fighters, Eminem and the Offpsring were slated to be the 2011 headliners on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, respectively; other acts confirmed for Thursday included Thirty Seconds to Mars, James Blake, Explosions in the Sky and Panic! at the Disco.
The 2011 Pukkelpop fest showcases eight different stages, including the Main Stage with acts like the Foos, Thirty Seconds to Mars and Rise Against set for Thursday; the Dance Hall, scheduled to feature Chromeo and Katy B; and the Club stage, with buzz-worthy acts like Fitz & the Tantrums and the Naked and Famous. The Chateau stage, which featured acts like Destroyer, Royal Bangs and Wolf People, collapsed on Thursday before scheduled groups like the Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Kurt Vile & the Violators could perform.
Additional reporting by Jason Lipshutz.