Furious Love Parade survivors slam organisers

25th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

Angry survivors demanded answers from organisers Sunday after 19 people were killed in a stampede at Germany's Love Parade and officials announced an inquiry into how the tragedy unfolded.

At a heated press conference in the western German city of Duisburg, officials said 16 of the dead had been identified, including four foreigners, from Australia, Italy, the Netherlands and China.

Deputy police chief Detlef von Schmeling said the victims, aged between 20 and 40, died as they scrambled to escape from a crush in a narrow, overcrowded tunnel that served as the only entrance to the festival grounds.

"Fourteen people died on the metal steps leading away from the tunnel, two on a wall outside the tunnel," he said.

Officials said that 340 people were injured in the melee as fresh accounts emerged of the "unimaginable" scenes that unfolded as thousands who piled into the tunnel became trapped in a bottleneck.

"I saw dead people in the tunnel, others alive but unconscious on the ground. Others were crying," said Anneke Kuypers, an 18-year-old from New Zealand.

The head of the Love Parade in Germany, Rainer Schaller, said the popular event, which began in Berlin in 1989, would not be held again, "out of respect for the victims and their families".

Survivors described a scene of horror as television pictures showed the unconscious and the dead being passed over the heads of those frantically trying to escape.

But many revellers remained unaware and kept on dancing after the incident Saturday as authorities kept a lid on the news to avoid further panic, a decision which angered some survivors.

"What's crazy is that the party carried on. That's just not right. People kept on dancing even though they might have had friends who had died," said 31-year-old who gave his name as Lubbert from the northern city of Hanover.

"At the end, the organisers even said 'thank you for a great day'."

And shock turned quickly to anger as partygoers criticised organisers for only allowing one entrance through the tunnel to the festival.

Patrick Guenter, a 22-year-old baker, said: "The organisation was very bad. Quickly there was nothing to drink apart from alcohol and although the festival was full, they kept letting people in."

"It seems the organisers didn't plan the route. The road was very narrow," added Taggart Bowen-Gaddy, 20, an American from Philadelphia.

"There was no planning, no one knew what was going on," he added.

The chairman of Germany's police union, Rainer Wendt, also attacked the planning, telling mass circulation Bild: "At the end of the day, the city and the organisers are to blame for this tragedy."

"I warned one year ago that Duisburg was not a suitable place for the Love Parade. The city is too small and narrow for such events."

Duisburg Mayor Adolf Sauerland said the investigation had been passed to prosecutors but defended what he said was a "solid security plan" worked out in advance.

Media reports said the festival grounds were only big enough to contain around 250,000 people, while around six times that number turned up, according to organisers.

However, controversy raged over the number of people in attendance.

The disused railway freight ground used to host the party "can hold 300,000 people and it was at no time full," said Wolfgang Rabe, a local official in charge of the emergency response.

Pope Benedict XVI expressed "deep sorrow" over the stampede.

"I remember in my prayers the young people who lost their lives," the German pope said after leading the weekly Angelus prayer at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo near Rome.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was "aghast" at the catastrophe.

"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.

Amid the panic and tragedy came tales of bravery and relief as people tried to help others escape the horror and lost relatives were reunited.

Bowen-Gaddy said that although there was some aggression, "overall, people wanted to help each other. Everyone just wanted to get out."

© 2010 AFP

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