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Germany to Investigate Deaths in ‘Love Parade’ Stampede

Associated Press

People place flowers and candles in a street near the accident site in Duisburg, Germany, on Sunday.

July 25, 2010

(KATAKAMI / THE WALLSTREET JOURNAL)  Local authorities and organizers of Europe’s biggest electronic-music event faced harsh criticism for their handling of a massive crowd after at least 19 people died and 342 were injured in a stampede at the “Love Parade” techno festival in Germany on Saturday.

The death toll continued to climb Sunday as organizers, German officials and police defended their decision to use a narrow roadway tunnel as the lone entrance for hundreds of thousands of revelers trying to reach the festival grounds in the western German city of Duisburg.

The tragedy has stunned Germany, a safety-conscious country usually adept at organizing large street parties and other public events without mishap.

As hospitals treated many of the injured, German public prosecutors opened an investigation into what caused the crowd of young partygoers to panic and stampede in the vicinity of the tunnel.

Emergency workers administer first aid to revelers who collapsed at Germany’s Love Parade.

“This absolutely didn’t need to happen,” said Matthias Roeingh, a DJ known to most Germans as Dr. Motte, who founded the Love Parade festival in Berlin in 1989.

“I put a lot of blame on the organizers,” said Mr. Roeingh, who wasn’t involved in this year’s event and didn’t attend. “This entry street, which brought people together at the tunnel, and the security at the entrance created a pileup. People couldn’t move forward or back. Those were the conditions that let this panic break out,” he said.

“I think now we need a very thorough investigation of how it came to this,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Sunday. “We have to do everything we can so that something like this isn’t repeated.”

Duisburg city officials approved the use of the site, planned the crowd flow and were responsible for managing it. Duisburg’s mayor, Adolf Sauerland, appealed at a news conference on Sunday for the public “to give the investigating officials the time they need to do their work, and not to assign blame hastily.”

As many as 1.4 million people descended on Duisburg for the party Saturday, according to German media reports, and the stampede started around 5 p.m. local time, shortly after police closed the tunnel because the festival grounds were too full. Police told those in the tunnel over loudspeakers to turn around and walk out from the direction they came, according to German media reports.

Duisburg police chief Detlef von Schmeling declined to confirm the size of the crowd or that police sealed off the tunnel and told people to turn around just before the stampede. He said none of the victims—who include citizens of Australia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, China, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain as well as Germans—died in the tunnel itself, but that they fell from metal steps or were crushed against a billboard on the hillside outside as they tried to climb away from the swelling crowd.

Footage on broadcaster N-TV showed people clambering over metal barricades and up a steep hillside outside the tunnel.

German police union leader Rainer Wendt said in an interview on the Bild newspaper’s website that he warned Love Parade organizers more than a year ago that Duisburg was “too narrow, too small to handle this mass of people.”

Ms. Merkel said she was “horrified and saddened by the suffering and the pain…The young people came to celebrate, and instead there are dead and injured.”

Pope Benedict XVI, a native German, expressed his sorrow during his weekly blessing from Castel Gandolfo, his summer residence south of Rome, and said he was praying for the victims.

The Love Parade was a Berlin institution during the 1990s, drawing techno fans and party-seekers from around the world to follow semitrailers converted into rolling dance clubs. From spontaneous beginnings, the parade grew into a major commercial event that consistently drew over a million people.

Financial troubles and a dispute with Berlin officials brought an end to the event in 2007, but organizers revived it in the industrial Ruhr region that year.

Last year’s Love Parade in Bochum was cancelled after city officials determined that they didn’t have a site large enough to hold the potential crowd. This year was the first time the festival was held in Duisburg.

At a news conference on Sunday, Rainer Schaller, one of the organizers, said it would be the last Love Parade.

“It will always be overshadowed by yesterday’s events,” said Mr. Schaller, part of a small group of people who handle funding for the Love Parade. “It’s over for the Love Parade.”  (*)


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