The organisers of Duisburg's Love Parade were yesterday accused of rejecting safety warnings on cost grounds before a stampede that left 19 revellers dead and injured more than 340 others. Prosecutors opened an official inquiry yesterday into the worst tragedy in the celebrated techno-music event's 21-year history. Among those killed were festival-goers from China, Australia, Italy and Holland.
Moments before the stampede, a huge crowd of some 500,000 festival-goers was making its way from the Rhine city's main railway station through a 300-yard-long tunnel towards the festival site, which was already packed on Saturday with more than a million techno ravers.
Fears that the area would be overwhelmed by the approaching crowd prompted police to seal off the exit to the tunnel and use megaphones to order the revellers to turn back. In the ensuing panic, 19 people were crushed to death. "I will never forget the sight," said one woman festival-goer who was trapped in the tunnel. "There were all these twisted-up bodies of those who had been crushed. They were lying at the tunnel exit," she said. "Their faces had all turned blue."
The thousands rushing through the tunnel were trying to witness the festival's main closing parade, it emerged yesterday. "It was idiotic of the police to try to turn back a crowd of ravers who were hell bent on getting into the festival," complained Jörg Sandmann, 21, a student who was at the back of the tunnel. "Nobody wanted to hear that they couldn't get in. They just surged forward," he said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has demanded an “intensive” investigation into the stampede. Mrs Merkel said she had been “appalled” by the tragedy, adding that everything must be done to ensure such deaths did not happen again.
Germany's Der Spiegel magazine website revealed that the Duisburg police and fire brigade had recruited a team of security experts to carry out a study in the run-up to the festival. The experts concluded it was vital to avoid the kind of "eye of the needle" situation that was created by making the tunnel the only access route to the Love Parade site. They had argued that it was necessary to allow the crowd several access routes. However, the organisers allegedly rejected the experts' suggestions because that would have meant deploying a far larger police force, with higher costs as a result.
The allegations made by the Duisburg police and fire brigade were backed yesterday by the German police trades union. It disclosed that police security experts had said that they had "huge reservations" about the planning for the Duisburg Love Parade.
Wolfgang Orscheschek, the regional police union deputy head, said the site chosen for the festival was far too small. "The city government was cornered by the organisers to such an extent that, despite the urgent warnings of the security experts, they could only say yes," he said.
Police and Duisburg city officials dodged questions about the causes of the tragedy at a press conference which was described as "chaotic" by several German media outlets present yesterday. Adolf Sauerland, Duisburg's mayor, argued that until the investigation was complete, any apportioning of guilt would be "out of place and out of order".
"That would be an injustice to the victims and their families," he insisted. But despite official stonewalling, the finger of blame was being pointed squarely at the organisers yesterday.
The Love Parade's founder, the techno disc jockey Dr Motte, who had nothing to do with the weekend's Duisburg festival, said in an interview with the Berliner Kurier, that it was scandalous that the crowd had been allowed only one access route to the festival.
Eyewitnesses said chaos broke out at the exit of the tunnel as revellers tried to scale fences, a lighting mast and a concrete stairway at its side whose exit had also been blocked off.
Several of the revellers fell off the stairs into the crowd. Others, pushed by the throng surging towards the exit from behind, simply collapsed on top of them. A stampede ensued, with hundreds of victims trampled in the crush.
"The atmosphere was explosive. Many in the crowd seemed to be intoxicated," said one police officer, who witnessed the scene. "When people started falling off the stairs and pulling others with them, it became just chaotic," he said. "They just couldn't be stopped. It was a living hell."
Police and ambulance crews fought in vain to get to the injured and dead lying at the tunnel exit. Late on Saturday, Duisburg's police chief admitted that the situation was "chaotic".
In order to prevent another panic-induced stampede, the organisers refused to call a halt to the event. The million-strong crowd of ravers was allowed to continue partying well into Saturday evening. Most did not learn of the tragedy until they started leaving.
Yesterday, the floor of Duisburg's "Death Tunnel" was littered with broken spectacles, discarded trainers, torn clothing and bits of medical equipment left by frantic ambulance crews.
As state prosecutors opened an official investigation into the disaster yesterday, Rainer Schaller, the techno festival's organiser, announced that there would be no more Love Parade festivals in Germany under his supervision. "The Love Parade was always a joyful and peaceful party. If it were to continue, it would always be overshadowed by yesterday's events," he said. "Out of respect for the victims, their families and friends, we are going to discontinue the event and that means the end of the Love Parade."
Chris Smith, festival organiser for Womad, held in Wiltshire at the weekend, said he doubted the Love Parade tragedy would be repeated in the UK.
"We take safety incredibly seriously in the UK. I think we have higher standards than anyone else."
*Eleven fans of The Who died as almost 10,000 audience members charged to claim seats at a gig in Cincinnati in 1979. The band weren't told of the tragedy until after they had performed.
*Three teenagers died in 1991 when a crowd of almost 5,000 surged forward at an AC/DC concert in Salt Lake City, US.
*Nine people were crushed to death and 43 injured during a Pearl Jam set at the 2000 Roskilde Festival in Denmark.
*In 2001, four teenage girls were killed at an Indonesian shopping centre trying to catch a glimpse of British boy band A1.
*Five people were trampled to death this year after gunfire sparked a stampede at a concert in Mexico.