Stampede at Love Parade in Germany kills 18
At least 18 techno music fans were crushed to death and 80 injured Saturday when mass panic triggered a stampede at the Love Parade festival in the German city of Duisburg, officials said.
The tragedy happened as crowds massed near a tunnel leading towards the open air festival, where organisers said 1.4 million people had turned out for what was meant to be a joyous celebration.
Most revellers remained unaware of the incident and continued dancing and listening to music long afterwards as authorities kept a lid on the news in a bid to prevent a further outbreak of chaos.
"According to our current information, 18 people have died and around 80 people have been injured at the entrance to the festival grounds," said the city's mayor Adolf Sauerland in a statement.
Police initially said the crush was in the tunnel itself, but Duisburg official Wolfgang Rabe said it happened on steps leading up to it, where "people died after climbing over the barriers and falling."
He said authorities decided not to order an immediate stop to the festival for fear of prompting further panic and chaos at the event, held on a disused railway freight yard in Duisburg, a city of 500,000 just north of Duesseldorf.
Among the dead were nine women and six men, while at least 15 of the injured were seriously hurt, authorities said.
One witness told the NTV rolling news channel that several people had fallen to the ground and had been trampled underfoot.
"Some people were on the ground while others were climbing up the walls," said the witness, Udo Sandhoefer.
Policeman and security officials tried to get into the tunnel "but it was already too full," he added.
"People kept trying to get into the tunnel for about 10 minutes, then realised what had happened and turned around," he said.
Another 18-year-old witness named Marius told the Bild daily: "There was no way of escaping. There was a wall of people in front of me. I was scared I was going to die."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was "aghast" at the stampede.
"In these difficult hours, my thoughts are with the relatives of the victims. They have my sympathy and my condolences."
"Young people came to party. Instead, there was death and injury. I am aghast and saddened by the sorrow and the pain," she said in a statement.
German President Christian Wulff said: "Such a catastrophe that has caused death, sorrow and pain during a peaceful festival involving young people from many countries, is dreadful."
Television footage showed emergency personnel working frantically at the tunnel while a line of revellers filed away slowly from the scene.
Dozens of ambulances and emergency vehicles were parked nearby, while medical tents had been set up. Several helicopters had landed on an elevated motorway bridge near the festival site.
First held in Berlin in 1989, the Love Parade is one of the biggest techno festivals in Europe, featuring world-renowned DJs spinning their turntables onstage while large floats move through the crowd.
It moved from Berlin from 2007 onwards after disagreements with the city authorities over logistics and security and has been held in several other German cities in recent years.
It finally found its home in the Ruhr region, Germany's industrial heartland. It was held in Essen in 2007 and Dortmund in 2008. The 2009 parade, due to be held in Bochum, was cancelled due to construction work in the town.
Deadly stampedes of this kind are rare in Europe.
In July 2000 eight people suffocated in a crush at the Roskilde music festival in Denmark, while five people died at a Latino music concert in Brest in northwestern France in February 2002.
© 2010 AFP