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Storm Hits Pukkelpop Festival in Belgium

Update: Belgium’s Pukkelpop festival has been cancelled after the stage collapse that killed five people on Thursday. The injury toll has also risen from an initial report of 70 people to 140.

“Pukkelpop is in deep mourning,” the festival’s organizers announced on their website. “We truly sympathise with the families and friends of the victims. Words are not enough. We have struggled with the decision to continue the festival. Therefore we have decided to cancel Pukkelpop 2011.

“What has happened is very exceptional and could not have been predicted. We are deeply moved by all the spontaneous support the festival goers and the organisation have received. We call on all Pukkelpoppers to return home calmly. Extra buses and trains have been organised to bring everybody home.”

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A wind and hail storm hit the Pukkelpop Festival in Hasselt, Belgium, causing stages to collapse and killing three people.

Hugo Simons, Hasselt’s head of emergency medical planning, told VRT radio that 11 others had been severely injured and 60 had sustained light injuries as a result of the storm.

More than 60,000 people were at the three-day festival, which kicked off today.

In an Associated Press report, 17-year-old festival attendee Laura Elegeert described the panic that ensued when structures began collapsing.

“It was utter confusion, mass panic,” Elegeert said. “People were trying to get out of this tent that collapsed by using their pocket knives and cutting holes in the fabric.”

Scheduled artists immediately spread the word on social media channels, including 30 Seconds to Mars’ Jared Leto, who kept up a steady twitter stream during the storm from the festival grounds.

“FOUR STAGES DOWN – STILL RAINING + THUNDER IF YOU ARE HERE PLEASE BE SAFE,” he tweeted.

Chicago’s indie outfit Smith Westerns were on one of the side stages when the storm hit. Frontman Cullen Omori posted a series of quick tweets and then later released a statement (via Pitchfork).

“We had just finished the first song of our set at Pukkelpop when the stage/tent started shaking and simply thought it was a storm passing through,” said Omori. “I made a comment about Cheap Trick and we were about to play the next one when our tour manager yelled at me to run off the stage. Right then the tress collapsed one foot in front of [guitarist] Max [Kakacek]. At this point we thought only the stage broke, not the tent. Amid the chaos it was hard to tell exactly what had happened, but after the rescue teams started coming in it became clear that there were severe injuries and we are now being told there are reports of multiple deaths. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families who lost loved ones in today’s tragedy.”

Just this past weekend, high winds caused a stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair, killing five. Cheap Trip and the Flaming Lips also experienced similar issues earlier this summer.

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