DUISBURG, Germany — 18 people were killed and another 80 injured at the Love Parade Festival in Duisburg, Western Germany on Saturday. Crowds of people streaming into a techno music festival surged through an already jammed entry tunnel, setting off a panic which led to fatalities at an event meant to celebrate love and peace.
The circumstances of the stampede were still not clear even hours after the chaos, but it appeared that some or most of the 18 had been crushed to death.
Authorities also suggested that some of the people killed or injured might have attempted to flee the crowd by jumping over a barrier and falling several meters (yards). Witnesses described a desperate scene, as people piled up on each other or scrambled over others who had fallen in the crush.
"The young people came to celebrate and instead there are dead and injured," said Chancellor Angela Merkel. "I am horrified by the suffering and the pain."
Criticism quickly fell on city officials for allowing only one entrance to the grounds of a hugely popular event that drew hundreds of thousands of people to dance, watch floats and listen to DJs spin. German media said 1.4 million people attended but that figure could not be immediately confirmed.
City officials chose not to evacuate the site, fearing it might spark more panic, and many people continued partying, unaware of the deaths.
Emergency workers had trouble getting to the victims, hampered by the huge crowds. The area was a hectic scene, with bodies lying on the ground and people milling around or attending to them. Rescue workers carried away the injured as techno music thundered in the background.
Local media reported that the cell phone system in Duisburg broke down temporarily and frantic parents trying to reach their children instead drove to the scene to look for them.
However, most streets downtown were blocked by police and the highways leading to the city were jammed. Several media outlets also reported that rescue helicopters had problems taking away the heavily injured because there was not enough space for them to land.
Authorities believe the panic might have first been sparked outside the tunnel when some revelers tried to jump over a barrier and fell, said Wolfgang Rabe, the head of the crisis unit set up by Duisburg city authorities.
Police commissioner Juergen Kieskemper said that just before the stampede occurred at about 5 p.m. (1500 GMT, 11 a.m. EDT), police closed off the area where the parade was being held because it was already overcrowded. They told revelers over loudspeakers to turn around and walk back in the other direction before the panic broke out, he said.