A crush of rap music fans pushing toward the stage during Travis Scott’s Astroworld festival in Houston killed at least eight people and injured many more 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 Award-nominated singer and producer. 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 concert 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 “rumours 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.
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. “People were up on each other. We were all pressed together. You felt like you couldn’t breathe.”
An earlier incident in which fans started “rushing” the festival gates was brought under control relatively quickly, said Finner, 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 would support the police as they investigate the incident and wanted to help the community heal.
“I’m absolutely devastated by what took place last night. 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. It said it was cancelling the second day of the festival.
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.