Storm leaves 3 dead, 40 hurt at Belgian rock fest
A violent wind and hail storm hit a major outdoor rock music festival in northern Belgium on Thursday, killing at least three people and injuring 40 others, local officials said.
Two stages collapsed, one falling on the concert-goers at the annual outdoor concert, the Pukkepop, held in Kiewit near the town of Hasselt.
Some giant screens also fell down and trees were uprooted by the fierce storm, the Belga news agency reported.
A toll put out at 11:30 pm (2130 GMT) said there were at least three fatalities. Forty others were injured, and several were in a serious condition.
Up to 65,000 people, mainly youths, were thought to have been present at the festival.
"The sky suddenly turned pitch black and we took shelter waiting for the rain. Then suddenly, there was a downpour. The wind blew violently," said festival-goer Catherine Blaise, according to Le Soir newspaper.
"There were hailstones bigger than a centimeter falling... Trees toppled over. It was unbelievable, the end of the world," she said.
Many of the concert-goers were under a big tent, sheltered from the rains and listening to the group Smith Westerns, when it collapsed, according to the RTBF public television website.
Ambulances rushed to the scene as the concert came to a halt.
A crisis centre has been set up in a gymnasium in Kiewit to help those who have been lightly injured or in shock.
The festival, set to run through Saturday, was immediately suspended. Organisers said they will review plans for the weekend on Friday.
"The decision ... was a difficult one to take," said organiser Chokri Mahassine.
"On the one hand, there is pain and sadness and on the other there are tens of thousands of youths who are still here for the festival and we have to do something for them," he said.
Belgian railways deployed additional trains to transport panicked festival-goers.
Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme issued a statement offering his condolences to the families of the victims.
Last year at the festival's 25th season, two tragedies occurred: a sound engineer died of a heart attack, and a rock singer, Charles Haddon, committed suicide by jumping from the top of a pylon after his group performed.
Last week in the United States, a similar tragedy occurred at the Indiana State Fair. A strong gust of wind brought down the stage rigging for a concert by country music stars Sugarland, killing five people and injuring 45 others.
© 2011 AFP