Thursday, August 18, 2011

This is Our Summer of Discontent - Storm at Pukkelpop Festival Kills 5, Injures Over 140

2011-08-18 - Mother Nature racked-up another one today in Hasselt, Belgium.  A sever storm with high winds, hail up to 1/2" diameter, and LOTS of water made a shambles of the festival grounds and surrounding area.  There are trees uprooted and broken like toothpicks (and these are BIG trees, too), and reports of at least four stages and many tents destroyed.  Early pictures and videos show shredded tents, bent metal, and a crowd management nightmare.  More pictures here.
There were an estimated 60,000 people attending the shows, so there were few places to get in out of the down-poor and wind.  Many of those places were of questionable structural integrity being tents and portable buildings.  This was the first day of a three-day festival, and the venue was turned into mud and flooded areas in less than ten minutes.  Promoters attempted to bring-in mobile cranes to lift some of the damaged structures, but they had to postpone doing so because the heavy cranes were sinking into the soft ground.

One of those who watched a tent collapse was Laura Elegeert, 17, of Saint-Nicolas, Belgium.  She said "It was utter confusion, mass panic. People were trying to get out of this tent that collapsed by using their pocket knives and cutting holes in the fabric."

At a news conference Friday, Hasselt officials and festival organizers described weather conditions at the event's opening day as exceptional and said weather forecasters had not predicted a storm of that intensity.
The Belgian weather service refused to give the exact speed of the wind, saying only that the storm was "violent."
Images of the stage wings toppled-over show huge flat sail-like surfaces and no apparent counter-ballasts to secure the framework.
Skin, the lead singer of Skunk Anansie, which was performing on the main stage when the storm hit, described the chaos on the band's Facebook page. He said "a burning hot sunny day turned into a mini-hurricane."
"(A) tower fell onto our truck, we had to run for our lives mid-set as hail hit the stage and the wind began to tear it to pieces," he wrote. "This was the scariest moment I have ever seen or felt in my 20 years of being an artist."
ABC News coverage:
Arial photos of the festival grounds the following day.  This really shows the scale of the event and the broad swath of downed trees, tents, and staging.
This festival, and others in the region have incurred deaths in the past.  In 2000, nine people were crushed to death and 43 injured during a Pearl Jam concert, and last year 20 were killed and 342 injured during the Love Parade Festival in Duisberg, Germany.
Summer's not over yet, so let's all be careful out there!  Do you have a clear plan for a weather event?  Where to go?  Who to meet? Who to Call? When to 'call' the show?

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