At least eight people were killed and many others injured in a crush at the opening night of Houston’s Astroworld music festival triggered by a surge of fans pushing toward the stage, officials said on Saturday.
Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña confirmed the casualty figures from Friday’s night’s disaster at a news conference early on Saturday outside NRG Park. A sold-out audience of about 50,000 people attended the first day of the festival featuring rapper Travis Scott.
At around 9 p.m. the crowd that had gathered for Scott’s performance began to push toward the front of the stage, causing panic and injuries.
People began to fall unconscious, and the mayhem escalated until 9:38 p.m. when a “mass casualty incident” was triggered, Peña said.
“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.
“Suddenly we had several people down on the ground, experiencing some type of cardiac arrest or some type of medical episode,” he added.
The fire department transported 17 people to hospitals, and 11 of those were in cardiac arrest.
“It felt like we was in a concert in hell, you couldn’t breathe, you couldn’t see,” a concert-goer with the Twitter handle @officialshaane said in a video posted on Twitter.
It was not yet clear what caused the disaster. An investigation was underway.
“I think it’s very important that none of us speculate. Nobody has all the answers tonight,” Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said. “If you don’t have facts, if you don’t have evidence, I’m not going to speak against that. We have hurting families out here.”
Finner added that the organizers and Scott were both cooperating with police.
“We are focused on supporting local officials however we can …,” Astroworld Fest said in a Twitter message, adding it was cancelling Saturday’s second day of the festival.
Authorities “are looking into the series of cardiac arrests that took place. If you have any relevant information on this please reach out to @houstonpolice,” the Twitter statement said.
Live Nation, the event organizer, is yet to comment on the incident.
Scott stopped multiple times during his 75-minute performance when he spotted fans in distress near the front of the stage, the Houston Chronicle reported. He asked security to make sure they were safe and help them out of the crowd. Emergency vehicles, lights and alarms flashing, cut through the crowds several times.
The fire department said on Twitter that a reunification center had been set up for families who had not heard from loved ones at the festival.
A crowd of 50,000 showed up for the two-day event, Peña said.
Video clips of the disaster were shared on social media early on Saturday.
In one clip, an ambulance was seen pulling up even as the crowd continued to sway their arms to the music. In another, Scott was seen stopping the concert and addressing the crowd, raising his fist.
A third clip showed police personnel performing CPR on several people even as music blared in the background.
“(It’s) obviously a very extremely tragic night. Our hearts are broken,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. Harris County includes Houston, the largest city in Texas.
“Tonight’s focus though needs to be on the families and on the lives that we’ve lost. Many of them extremely young, tragically young,” added Hidalgo, the county’s top elected official, said at the briefing.
Some of the victims were as young as 10 years old, she said, without specifying if the children were killed or injured.
Houston-born Scott came to fame in the early 2010s for his unique vocal style. Astroworld is also the name of his third studio album released in 2018 to critical acclaim.