Tragedy at Pukkelpop 2011: A Ticket Holder’s View.

Impact’s Dan Adams was at this year’s Pukkelpop, a Belgian music festival, before disaster struck. He reported of the storm which lead to chaos on the site of the Festival.

I’ve never seen a storm come in that quickly. The sky turned ominously, the wind whipped up, and the rain began. It felt like the footage we have all seen on the news of hurricanes hitting Florida. Everything became lost and hazy, revellers hiding under trees and running for the beer tents.

The Chateau tent at Pukkelpop 2011 had a dream line-up, from Destroyer to The tUnE-yArDs. The Smith Westerns were just opening their set at the time of the storm. Inside, you could feel the tent wobble but only those on the fringes were really aware just how the power of the wind was beginning to move everything. Even then it just seemed to add some classic festival tradition. People were dancing in the rain.

Suddenly the rigging stumbled and came down and the tent collapsed.  Screams rang out. It was surreal – there was panic, some scrambling and some pushing, though nothing you wouldn’t normally see at a festival. It had a revelry nature to it, on the fringes.

Unable to find anybody I knew, I went outside and waited. Finally, Ine arrived with a story. She pointed out a toilet cubicle that had been crushed by a tree. With a friend she had shied in there from the rain, only leaving when it too started to rock. Seconds later a tree had come down on top of it, crumpling it as if a car had struck it in a fender bender.

The storm cleared almost as soon as it arrived. The ground was sodden and the air warm. It all looked post-apocalyptic. Revellers wandered aimlessly, perhaps to check if their tents were still there or maybe just to get some space. Most tents remained; the storm was that localised.

The full extent of the tragedy quickly started to become clear. Emergency services rushed to the Chateau tent, the injured staggered out and doctors worked on the rest. There were rumours of deaths. It started to hit home when we looked for our friend Lieke. She wasn’t answering her phone so we walked to the First Aid tent, only to be confronted by Emergency Services working on a girl who had lost her arm.

The sky was red by now, usually a promise of a good day tomorrow. The festival, however, had been cancelled on its first day. There was no other choice. Four are confirmed dead, ranging from staff to ticket holders, and 75 had been injured, some seriously, with reports of lost eyes, legs, fingers etc… The next day was all melancholy sun.

It’s been a bad run for festivals of late. Five died in Indiana this summer and 19 died in a crush at Love Parade last year. That said, it is not the time for some knee-jerk reaction to festival safety. Tragedies do happen and they often occur in clusters, showing some convenient but ultimately false causation for the opinionated. It just rolls that way sometimes and there is nothing we can do.

Dan Adams

3 Comments on this post.
  • Baye
    24 August 2011 at 13:31
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    Dear Dan, Thank you for sharing your story. You touch the readers heart and mind with your well chosen words that describe a surreal picture in real life. I was with many friends at the Lowlands festival in Holland that same weekend. We all felt great sympathy and lot’s of love for all the people at Pukkelpop injured or not. I agree that festival safety shouldn’t be tighter as it is very good at most festivals. Festivals in general offer this great place where so many people gather and share their love for music or any other passion with like minded people. It is my hope that clear thinking and common sense and modern technology could inform the organisation even better about necessary actions to take in case of emergencies. Overall I do agree with your last sentence “it just rolls that way and there is nothing we can do.” But – looking at the future instead of the past – I do feel there are lessons to be learned here. The challenge I see for festival organisers is “How to improve to rate risks and How to evacuate thousands of people in minutes.”

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    24 August 2011 at 21:09
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    […] pretty sure you don’t want to be part of an incident that could quickly turn into the next Pukkelpop / Indiana State Fair disaster. From cutting Steve Aoki’s set off after one song due to […]

  • dan
    25 August 2011 at 13:23
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    I need to give credit as well to Lieke and Ine for extra details and help!

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