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Storm leaves five dead at Belgian rock fest

BRUSSELS, Aug 19 – A violent storm that lashed an outdoor rock music festival in northern Belgium killed at least five people, officials said Friday.

“The storm hit Thursday afternoon on the Pukkepop festival, held near the town of Hasselt, and killed at least five people,” Hasselt mayor Hilde Claes told local radio after reports that two stages had collapsed.

Organisers said that the leading music festival, which opened Thursday and was set to run through Saturday, had been cancelled as a result of the tragedy.

Some giant screens also fell down during the storm and trees were uprooted, the Belga news agency reported.

Up to 65,000 people, mainly youths, were thought to have been present at the festival.

“The sky suddenly turned pitch black and we took shelter waiting for the rain. Then suddenly, there was a downpour. The wind blew violently,” said festival-goer Catherine Blaise, according to Le Soir newspaper.

“There were hailstones bigger than a centimeter falling… Trees toppled over. It was unbelievable, the end of the world,” she said.

Many of the concert-goers were under a big tent, sheltered from the rains and listening to the group Smith Westerns, when it collapsed, according to the RTBF public television website.

Ambulances rushed to the scene as the concert came to a halt.

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A crisis centre has been set up in a gymnasium in Kiewit to help those who have been lightly injured or in shock.

Belgian railways deployed additional trains to transport panicked festival-goers.

Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme issued a statement offering his condolences to the families of the victims.

Last year at the festival’s 25th season, two tragedies occurred: a sound engineer died of a heart attack, and a rock singer, Charles Haddon, committed suicide by jumping from the top of a pylon after his group performed.

Last week in the United States, a similar tragedy occurred at the Indiana State Fair. A strong gust of wind brought down the stage rigging for a concert by country music stars Sugarland, killing five people and injuring 45 others.

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