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Posted at 01:00 PM ET, 08/19/2011

Stage collapses at Belgium concert, five dead; festival canceled


Volunteers look at the wreckage of a tent which collapsed following a heavy storm at the Pukkelpop outdoor music festival near Hasselt, northern Belgium, August 18, 2011. (SEBASTIEN PIRLET - REUTERS)
Less than a week after thunderstorm winds toppled a stage at a fair in Indiana, killing five and injuring 40, a similar set of circumstances occurred across the Atlantic. At the Pukkelpop music festival in Belgium yesterday, a fierce storm took down a stage, claiming five lives and injuring 140. As a result of the incident, the festival attended by 60,000 people and headlining Eminem, Foo Fighers, and The Offspring has been canceled says Post’s Pop Music blog Click Track.

Satellite and radar imagery as well as live video confirm a violent thunderstorm with torrential rain, damaging winds and hail to the size of tennis balls blasted the concert site east of Brussels. Meteorologist Dan Satterfield discovered satellite imagery showing the storm had an overshooting top, indicative of extreme instability. In Hasselt, the nearest town to the concert site, AccuWeather reports a 43 mph wind gust was observed.

The BBC describes a chaotic scene when the storm struck: “Staging collapsed, giant screens fell, tents were flattened and trees were uprooted, all in the space of minutes...”

The New York Times Arts Beat blog has this harrowing account:

Christophe Van Impe, a Belgian journalist attending the event, said the storm hit just an hour after he had seen the group Explosions in the Sky perform. “It was like a scene out of the film ‘Twister,’ ” he told a Belgian newspaper, La Capital, in a firsthand account published on that paper’s Web site on Friday. “The audience began to panic, especially when two enormous pylons holding up a giant screen collapsed.”

“All of a sudden, a 15-meter rip appeared in the tent behind the artists, who ran for it. That’s when the structure collapsed onto the audience,” he wrote.

Video of the storm from YouTube

Unlike the Indiana stage collapse, meteorologists did not forecast the severity of this storm, according to reports. Arts Beat writes:

The Associated Press reported that at a joint news conference on Friday, the mayor and the organizers of the festival said meteorologists had not predicted such an intense storm. “I have seen many tropical storms,” Mr. Mahassine said, “but this was unprecedented.”

AccuWeather Vice President Mike Smith - author of Warnings and an outspoken advocate for better severe weather preparedness could hardly believe the news of this accident just days in the wake of the Indiana tragedy.

I’m speechless. Is there no learning?! Another four people [five] dead in a stage collapse.

Moreover, he was incredulous that meteorologists could not see the storms coming:

Europe has very sophisticated meteorological services including radar, etc.

Thus far, news reports have not addressed whether festival officials or meteorologists were monitoring the weather conditions nor have they mentioned whether there was an evacuation plan.

Meanwhile, the Fox affiliate in Indianapolis reports the Indiana State Fair consulted with a meteorologist at the event who warned concert officials about the storm more than 30 minutes prior to the stage collapsing. But action was not taken:

“At 8:15 he said the weather was coming,” [fair spokesperson Andy] Klotz said.

According to Klotz the meteorologist said the weather would likely cause the concert to be postponed. At that point Klotz said he admitted that the decision could have been made to evacuate.

“It could have been done there is no question,” he said. “You could have done that but we were assessing everything that we had available, and we made the decision that we thought was right at the time.”

Clearly, the mishap at the Indiana State Fair was preventable. Time will tell whether more could have been done to avert the accident at Pukkelpop.

By  |  01:00 PM ET, 08/19/2011

Categories:  International Weather, Latest

 
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