British band Skunk Anansie’s lead singer Skin has told of the terrifying moment a fierce storm struck an open air music festival killing five people.
The band were playing when the storm began pelting the main stage – and the thousands watching them – with rain and hail.
The storm shredded the annual Pukkelpop outdoor rock festival in Belgium, blowing down huge canvas tents, uprooting trees and flinging multi-storey metal scaffolding towers and racks of concert lights across the grounds.
Organisers said five people were killed and 140 injured, 10 of them seriously.
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 today and blamed unprecedented weather conditions in the town 50 miles east of Brussels.
Hilde Claes, the mayor of Hasselt, spoke of a “nightmare” and said the town had never seen a storm like this.
“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 60,000-strong festival crowd ran for shelter from the rain and hail into the tents of caterers and festival sponsors.
But Claes said three huge tents buckled under the force of the wind and the weight of the hail, sending hundreds back outdoors.
As tent poles buckled, 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.
Dr Pascal Vranckx of Jessa Hospital in Hasselt said many of the injured were hit on the head by flying or falling debris.
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.
The festival featured internationally known acts, including Foo Fighters, Eminem and The Offspring.
“Our hearts go out to everyone affected by the tragic events at Pukkelpop,” tweeted the Foo Fighters, whose show was cancelled after the storm hit.
This was the second deadly incident at an outdoor festival in a week. On Saturday, parts of a stage collapsed at the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis, killing five people and injuring dozens, when winds of up to 70 mph hit.