DUISBURG, Germany – A stampede inside a tunnel crowded with techno music fans left 17 people dead and 80 injured at the famed Love Parade festival in western Germany on Saturday.
Other revelers initially kept partying at the event in Duisburg, near Duesseldorf, unaware of the deadly panic that started when police tried to prevent thousands more from entering the already-jammed parade grounds.
Authorities were still trying to determine exactly what happened at the event, which drew hundreds of thousands of people, but the situation was “very chaotic,” police commissioner Juergen Kieskemper said.
Emergency workers had trouble getting to the victims in the wide, 500- to 600-meter-long (500- to 600-yard) tunnel that led to the grounds. The area was a hectic scene, with bodies lying on the ground as rescue workers rushed to aid them. Many of the injured were loaded into Red Cross vans and driven away.
Kieskemper said that just before the stampede occurred at about 5 p.m. (1500 GMT, 11 a.m. EDT), police closed off the area where the parade was being held because it was already overcrowded. They told revelers over loudspeakers to turn around and walk back in the other direction before the panic broke out, he said.
Eyewitness Udo Sandhoefer told n-tv television that even though no one else was being let in people still streamed into the tunnel, causing “a real mass panic.”
“At some point the column (of people) got stuck, probably because everything was closed up front, and we saw that the first people were already lying on the ground,” he said.
“Others climbed up the walls and tried somehow to get into the grounds from the side, and the people in the crowd that moved up simply ran over those who were lying on the ground.”
Another witness, a young man who wasn’t named, told n-tv the tunnel became so crowded that people began falling. “It got tighter and tighter from minute to minute and at some point everyone just wanted out,” he said. “People were just pushed together until they fell over.”
Duisburg city officials decided at a crisis meeting to let the parade go on to prevent more panic and another stampede, said city spokesman Frank Kopatschek.
Police initially reported 10 deaths, before raising the toll to 15, and then 17.
It is the worst accident of its kind since nine people were crushed to death and 43 more were injured at a rock festival in Roskilde, Denmark, in 2000. That fatal accident occurred when a huge crowd pushed forward during a Pearl Jam gig.
Germany’s new president expressed his dismay at the deaths.
“Such a catastrophe that brings death, suffering and pain during a peaceful festival of happy young people is terrible,” President Christian Wulff said, according to his office.
The Love Parade was once an institution in Berlin, but has been held in the industrial Ruhr region of western Germany since 2007.
The original Berlin Love Parade grew from a 1989 peace demonstration into a huge outdoor celebration of club culture that drew about 1.5 million people at its peak in 1999. But it suffered from financial problems and tensions with city officials in later years, and eventually moved.