German stampede toll rises to 18: police

11:03, July 25, 2010      

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Rescuers work at the scene after a stampede inside a tunnel during the Love Parade techno music festival in Duisburg, western Germany, on July 24, 2010. Nine women and six men have been confirmed dead in the stampede in an entrance tunnel on the way to the event site, and more than 100 people were injured, 45 of them seriously, Duisburg police said. (Xinhua)

The death toll from a stampede on Saturday at a music festival in western Germany's Duisburg city has risen to 18, with 16 people confirmed killed on the scene and two others succumbing to injuries in hospital, local police said.

The previous toll was 15. There were also 80 others injured, 45 of them seriously, as a crowd of thousands was blocked inside a tunnel and a mass panic occurred during the Love Parade, a popular electronic music festival, according to Duisburg police.

The police said at a press conference that the stampede happened shortly after 5 p.m. local time, as people were pushing and crushing each other in an entrance tunnel leading to the event 's main stage.

Police said that some people were killed and hurt after " climbing over the barriers and falling to the ground."

Local police have opened a hotline to help contact the relatives of the victims. The names and nationalities of the dead remained unknown.

Wang Xin, chairman of the Chinese students' association in Duisburg, told Xinhua on the phone that some Chinese students also attended the event, but so far he has received no report of any casualties.

Wang said Duisburg was a relatively small city with a population of 500,000, and its roads were generally narrow.

"It is imaginable that the city has exceeded its limits when more than 1 million people were pouring into the streets and plaza and caused chaos," he said.

Both German President Christian Wulff and Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed their sorrow and shock over the tragedy.

"In this difficult time, I express my sympathy and sorrow for the families of the victims ... I am appalled and saddened by the suffering and pain," said Merkel in a statement.

"Such a catastrophe is terrible, which caused death, suffering and pain during a peaceful festival of joyful young people from many countries," Wulff said. He called for an immediate investigation into the incident.

TV footage showed tens of ambulances were rushing to the tunnel and several people were resuscitated on the floor near the entrance. Some people were bruised in the face, arms and back, looking scared and tired, as they walked in lines out of the tunnel, which is 500 meters to 600 meters long.

German media reported that the mass panic broke out after authorities tried to prevent thousands of people from getting into the parade area since it was already overcrowded, but some people disobeyed and still headed into the entrance of the tunnel.

Some witnesses in the tunnel said that they felt being strongly pushed from behind, while the road ahead was firmly blocked.

"People kept trying to get into the tunnel for about 10 minutes, then they realized what happened and turned back," one witness called Udo Sandhoefer told reporters.

German television ZDF reported that at the beginning of the panic, emergency workers were in trouble getting close to the injured, although nine helicopters were sent to monitor the situation from the air.

Duisburg railway spokesman Udo Schulte Kamp said the city's main station was temporarily closed for safety reason, as some people went onto the tracks or near the railway area after the panic.

German television WDR's reporters said that mobile phone networks were overloaded and the Autobahn 59 highway leading to the city was closed for transporting rescuers at a fast speed.

"There was no escape. People were pressed into the wall. I was afraid I'd die," a witness identified only as Marius told the Bild newspaper.

A 21-year-old festival goer, who identified himself as Fabio, told German news television N-TV that police had been warned by people in the tunnel some 45 minutes before the tragedy.

"We went back through the tunnel, and my girlfriend and I could scarcely breathe. We had to use our elbows to get through. We told the police that it would soon come to a mass panic," he said.

The Love Parade is one of Europe's largest electronic music festivals, which was originally hosted in Berlin from 1989 to 2006. Other German cities began to host it afterwards.

Organizers said that about 1.4 million music fans attended the event on Saturday, with 1,400 police deployed. However, the reception limit of the main field was reported to be 500,000 people. Some witnesses complained that the organizers were not well prepared for the crowds.

Many partygoers were not aware of what had happened, and they sang and danced happily in the large-scale parade and open-door parties for at least one hour after the tragedy.

DJ Dr. Motte, the founder of the Love Parade, told the German news agency DPA that Duisburg organizers provided only one tunnel exit for the crowding music fans, which has proved to be "a huge management mistake."

"How can they let people go through only one tunnel to the grounds? It's a scandal," he said.

Local government spokesman Frank Kopatschek said that officials opted against an immediate evacuation and decided to let the parade go on, fearing the evacuation might spark further panic.

The police have not issued any initial report on the incident so far.

Latest TV footage showed that the tunnel had been cleared and police were trying to slowly guide people away from the main sites of the parade.Source: Xinhua
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