Festival closed as storm kills five in Belgium

THE death toll from a fierce storm that ripped tents, uprooted trees and flung multi-storey metal scaffolding towers and racks of concert lights across the grounds of a music festival in Belgium has risen to five, officials say.

Hasselt mayor Hilde Claes said that two more people died yesterday. A total of 73 were injured, eight of them seriously, when the annual Pukkelpop festival was hit by a brief but violent storm on Thursday night. Panicked concert-goers ran through fields of mud seeking shelter as the festival’s infrastructure was destroyed.

The festival, 80km east of Brussels, has now been cancelled, and buses and trains have been pressed into service to transfer the 60,000 festival-goers home.

Britrock band Skunk Anansie’s lead singer Skin has told of the terrifying moment the fierce storm.

The band were playing when the storm began pelting the main stage — and the thousands watching them — with rain and hail.

Skin described the chaos on the band’s Facebook page, saying “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,” she wrote.

“This was the scariest moment I have ever seen or felt in my 20 years of being an artist.”

Toon van Wemmel, 26, a graphic designer from nearby Leuven, said “the hailstones came down so hard they caused bruises”. He and his partner ran away from the main stage, turned around and saw trees crashing down where they had stood less than a minute earlier.

Officials said the dead were all Belgians, ranging in age from 15 to 59.

Officials cancelled the last two days of the three-day Pukkelpop festival yesterday.

Ms Claes spoke of a “nightmare” and said the town had never seen a storm of such magnitude.

“I have seen many tropical storms, but this was unprecedented,” said Chokri Mahassine, organiser of the annual festival that began in 1985.

The storm lasted barely five minutes. As the sky darkened, some of the crowd ran for shelter into the tents of caterers and festival sponsors.

But three huge tents buckled under the force of the wind and the weight of the hail, sending hundreds back outdoors.

As tent poles bent, canvas roofs shredded, flapping in tatters in the wind. Video showed panicked concertgoers crawling out from under the downed tents and running through fields of mud to safety.

Claes and Mahassine said they received no advance warning of the storm — a claim disputed by the Belgian weather office and VRT, the country’s Dutch-language public broadcaster.

More in this section

IE_logo_newsletters

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox