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A stampede of fans pushing toward the stage during rap star Travis Scott’s Astroworld festival in Houston killed at least eight people and injured scores of others as panic rippled through the packed crowd, officials said on Saturday.
The disaster unfolded at NRG Park at around 9 p.m. on Friday during the headline performance by Scott, a Grammy-nominated singer and producer, following an escalation of unruly behavior reported by members of the crowd and police.
As some in the sold-out audience of about 50,000 surged toward the stage, people began to fall unconscious, some apparently suffering cardiac arrest or other medical issues, officials told reporters outside the venue. Minutes later the chaos was declared a “mass casualty incident.”
“It happened all at once. It seemed like it just happened … over the course of just a few minutes,” said Houston Police Executive Assistant Chief Larry Satterwhite, who was at the front of the event when the situation began.
Satterwhite said he immediately met with promoters and they agreed to halt the show “in the interest of public safety.”
Police Chief Troy Finner said investigators had yet to determine what triggered the deadly surge, but he said police were aware of “rumors of people injecting some people with drugs” in the crowd, “so I want to check all that out.”
Seventeen victims were taken by ambulance to hospitals after the crush began, 11 of whom were in cardiac arrest, according to city Fire Chief Samuel Peña, but it was unclear whether that number included any of the eight confirmed fatalities.
‘IT FELT LIKE A RIOT’
He added that some 300 people were treated at an on-site “field hospital” for various injuries and illnesses suffered throughout the day unrelated to the deadly crowd surge, which he said left “scores” of people hurt. One was 10 years old, Pena said.
After mobbing entrance gates and merchandise booths early in the day, the crowd grew increasingly unruly as performers took the stage, according to 19-year-old festival goer Hamad Al Barrak.
“There were just too many people,’ said Al Barrak, who described chaos as he tried to buy festival gear. “We were all pressed together. You felt like you couldn’t breathe.”
Albert Merza, 43, a supermarket manager who was part of a group of eight people from Detroit attending the festival, recounted seeing “a lot of drinking and crazy behavior.”
“It felt like a riot,” he said, adding that it appeared about half the crowd were under age 21. “There were people throwing out stuff, objects flying everywhere.”
Nick Johnson, 17, said he witnessed a steady rise of disruptive behavior before the stampede.
“It was going on for over two hours, and it just got worse and worse (until) you just can’t breathe,” he said.
An incident earlier in the day in which fans started “rushing” the festival gates was brought under control relatively quickly, said Finner, the police chief, adding: “I don’t think this incident is related to the incident that caused the deaths.”
Finner said police had 367 officers assigned to the festival on Friday, along with 241 private security personnel.
Houston-born Scott said he was “absolutely devastated,” would support the police as they investigate, and wanted to help the community heal.
“My prayers go out to the families and all those impacted by what happened at Astroworld Festival,” Scott wrote on Twitter. “Love You All.”
Peña described how the crush of fans quickly overwhelmed the private medical personnel for the festival, a two-day affair that was scheduled to culminate on Saturday, but was canceled after Friday night’s tragedy.
Videos posted to social media showed a chaotic scene as fans and staff tried to bring attention to injured concert-goers. One video showed fans attempting to make camera operators aware of the dangerous situation. A separate video showed people waving toward the stage and chanting “Stop the show!”
An investigation was underway that is likely to focus on security and safety protocols at the event.
Two weeks ago, organizers of another Houston concert canceled it abruptly after fans pushed through a gate and stormed into a Playboi Carti show being held within the same NRG Park complex.
Jennifer Ortega, 22, who arrived at the Astroworld event at about 1 p.m. said access was orderly at that time. But by 4 p.m. the crowd at the smaller of the festival’s two stages “got pretty reckless,” with people throwing water bottles. She said she witnessed about three people leaving the area with bloody noses and missing teeth.
Organizers and Scott were both cooperating with police.
“We are focused on supporting local officials however we can,” Astroworld Fest, an event organized by Live Nation Entertainment, said on Twitter.
FANS IN DISTRESS
Scott stopped multiple times during his 75-minute performance when he spotted fans in distress near the stage, video posted online showed. He asked security to make sure they were safe. Emergency vehicles, lights and alarms flashing, cut through the audience several times.
“We need somebody to help. Somebody passed out right here,” Scott said, according to video of his set, which included a guest appearance by Canadian rapper Drake. “Security, somebody, jump in here real quick.”
Another video clip, which Reuters could not immediately verify as authentic, showed police performing CPR on several people even as music blared in the background.
The tragedy harkens back to a 1979 concert by British rock band The Who in which 11 people were killed when fans stampeded into the Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati before the event.
A reunification center was set up for families who had not heard from loved ones at the festival, the Houston Fire Department said on Twitter.
Scott, who came to fame in the early 2010s for his unique vocal style has a daughter with Kylie Jenner from the famed Kardashian family. Astroworld is also the name of his third studio album released in 2018 to critical acclaim.