At least 19 people were trampled to death on their way to the Love Parade techno music festival in Duisburg, Germany. The festival-goers were crushed in a tunnel on their way to festival grounds, according to police.
Police described the situation as "very chaotic"
At least 19 people died after a stampede broke out at the Love Parade techno music festival in the western German city of Duisburg on Saturday. Authorities in Duisburg scheduled a press conference for Sunday to detail the cause of the mass panic.
The tragedy occurred in a tunnel on the way to the festival grounds as police were trying to prevent people from entering the overcrowded site. Thousands of fans had been walking along a hundred-meter pathway toward the festival for several hours.
In interviews with German media, eyewitnesses questioned the safety of the 200-meter (650-foot) long and 30-meter wide tunnel that served as the Love Parade's main access.
A tunnel served as the main entrance to the Love Parade
There was also some concern ahead of the festival that Duisburg's former railway freight yard would not be able to accommodate all the party-goers. In an interview with Der Westen, organizers said the venue could hold up to 500,000 people. Some 1.4 million people were estimated to have attended the event, about 200,000 less than the previous year's Love Parade in Dortmund.
Duisburg Police Commissioner Juergen Kieskemper described the situation as "very chaotic," and said they were still trying to determine exactly what happened.
City authorities earlier confirmed that 15 people had died and said an additional 80 were injured in the tunnel. Facing the crush of the crowd, paramedics had difficulty getting through to the site. Police later said that 16 people had died at the scene and that a further three had died of their injuries.
Early on Sunday, police drastically increased the number of people reported injured to 342.
'No turning back'
Parademics had difficulty getting to the accident site
Festival-goers described a mass of people pushing with unstoppable force.
It took Sergei Benkogenov and Vitaly Dippel from Hamm three hours to reach the festival grounds from Duisburg's train station. At some point, they wondered if their efforts were worth it.
"We really would have liked to turn around and go home, but it was impossible," said 19-year-old Benkogenov. "There was no turning back."
"No one knew where the Love Parade started," Bekogenov added. "The line was endless."
Right before reports of the stampede, with thousands in line waiting to get in, police announced at 5:34 p.m. that the festival grounds had reached capacity and were being closed.
"The police announced by loudspeaker that participants should return in the direction of the train station," said one eyewitness.
Authorities, however, later said at a press conference Saturday at the Duisburg city hall that the festival grounds were not yet filled at the time of the tragedy.
Merkel, Wulff express condolences
German Chancellor Angela Merkel offered her sympathy to the victims' families, saying she was horrified by the day's events.
"The young people came to celebrate, instead there were deaths and injuries," she said. "I am appalled and distressed at the suffering and pain."
German President Christian Wulff also expressed his condolences Saturday evening in Berlin for the victims of the tragedy that had "caused death, sorrow and pain amidst a peaceful festival of cheerful young people from many countries."
The party went on "for security reasons"
"My thoughts are with the victims of the tragedy and with all their family and friends," Wulff said, adding that he hoped for a full explanation as to the causes of the incident.
The Mayor of Duisburg, Adolf Sauerland, said that safety arrangements put in place by the city and festival organizers had been substantial. He also said an investigation to determine the precise cause of the tragedy had been started.
"In the run-up to the event, we worked out a solid security plan with the organizers and everyone involved," he said. "My thoughts are with the victims and their relatives. The Love Parade is supposed to be a peaceful and joyful celebration."
North Rhine-Westphalia State Premier Hannelore Kraft expressed her own shock and said that investigators would need time to establish what had happened.
Party goes on
Spokesman Frank Kopatschek told news agency DPA on Saturday evening that "the city of Duisburg's action committee has decided not to end the festival for now, for safety reasons."
Kopatschek said the city was concerned about preventing further panic among the 1.4 million people in attendance.
Organizers ended their live streaming of the event, replacing it with a message that offered "sincere condolences" to relatives.
Police have activated a hotline for family members of festival-goers anxious about the well-being of their loved ones.
The Love Parade festival began in Berlin in 1989 but moved to the Ruhr region in 2007. It also led to numerous other events around the world being held under the "Love Parade" banner.
Author: David Levitz, Richard Connor (AFP/AP/apn/dpa)
Editor: Sean Sinico