Officials in Belgium canceled the Pukkelpop music festival on Friday after the death toll in a stage collapse rose to five. Two more people died overnight after a freak thunderstorm ripped through the festival site in Hasselt, ripping down trees and destroying a stage while Chicago rock band the Smith Westerns were performing their set.
According to MSNBC, none of the band’s members were hurt, but their equipment was destroyed in the fourth major incident involving a concert stage collapse this summer.
Organizers decided to cancel the rest of the fest and brought in buses and trains to transfer the 60,000 festivalgoers home. The action came after a brief, violent thunderstorm passed through on Thursday evening, collapsing concert tents and the main stage scaffolding, sending panicked concertgoers out into fields of mud in search of shelter. At least 140 people were injured in the incident, 10 of them seriously.
“Pukkelpop is in deep mourning,” festival organizer Chokri Mahassine said in a statement. “What has happened is very exceptional and could not have been predicted.”
Not aware of the severity of the situation at the time, Smith Westerns singer Cullen Omori tweeted about the stage collapse as it happened. He first complained about the band’s equipment being destroyed (in a since-deleted post) and then wrote, “praying no one go hurt. Wtf.”
The band later issued a statement about the collapse.
“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. 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 Max. 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.”
The festival’s lineup included the Foo Fighters, 30 Seconds to Mars , Wiz Khalifa, Rise Against and Eminem.
“Our deepest thoughts and sympathies to the families and friends of those who lost their lives today at the show in Belgium,” 30STM frontman Jared Leto said in a statement on Thursday. “We are absolutely devastated that this celebration ended in tragedy. To those that were injured we are sending thoughts and prayers. Obviously under these horrible and dangerous circumstances, and out of respect for those who have passed, 30 Seconds to Mars will not be playing. We love you all and hope tomorrow brings a better day.”
A Facebook page has been set up to honor the victims and a number of bands tweeted their condolences. “Our hearts go out to everyone affected by the tragic events at Pukkelpop,” the Foos tweeted. “We are all safe at Pukkelpop. Crazy storm. This is awful. Hearts go out to all,” added Fleet Foxes.
Eminem was slated to headline on Friday (August 19), on a bill that also included the Ting Tings, Deftones, Crystal Castles and D12. Saturday’s show was to feature the Offspring, Kasabian, the Kills, Lykke Li, Busy P and Odd Future.
The Pukkelpop tragedy follows on the heels of earlier stage collapses this summer at shows by Cheap Trick and the Flaming Lips, and just last week, Sugarland , where five people were killed.