Image: Loveparade 2010
Hermann J. Knippertz  /  AP
Collapsed people get first aid after a panic on this year's techno-music festival Love Parade 2010 in Duisburg, Germany, on Saturday.
updated 7/25/2010 5:19:27 AM ET 2010-07-25T09:19:27

Crowds of people streaming into a techno music festival surged through an already jammed entry tunnel on Saturday, setting off a panic that killed 19 people and injured 342 at an event meant to celebrate love and peace.

The circumstances of the stampede at the famed Love Parade festival were still not clear even hours after the chaos, but it appeared that some or most of the 19 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 deaths 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 and listen to DJs spin. German media said 1.4 million people attended but that figure could not be immediately confirmed.

The founder of the Love Parade, Matthias Roeingh, known by the name Dr. Motte, blasted the planning for the event, saying "one single entrance through a tunnel lends itself to disaster. I am very sad."

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 and crowded scene, with bodies lying on the ground as people milled around or attended to them, and rescue workers carried away the injured. 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.

Eyewitness Udo Sandhoefer told n-tv television that even though no one else was being let in, people still streamed into the tunnel, causing "a real mass panic."

"At some point the column (of people) got stuck, probably because everything was closed up front, and we saw that the first people were already lying on the ground," he said.

"Others climbed up the walls and tried somehow to get into the grounds from the side, and the people in the crowd that moved up simply ran over those who were lying on the ground."

Another witness, a young man who wasn't named, told n-tv the tunnel became so crowded that people began falling. "It got tighter and tighter from minute to minute and at some point everyone just wanted out," he said. "People were just pushed together until they fell over."

Duisburg city officials decided at a crisis meeting to let the parade go on to prevent more panic and another stampede, said city spokesman Frank Kopatschek.

It is the worst accident of its kind since nine people were crushed to death and 43 more were injured at a rock festival in Roskilde, Denmark, in 2000. That fatal accident occurred when a huge crowd pushed forward during a Pearl Jam gig.

The Love Parade was once an institution in Berlin, but has been held in the industrial Ruhr region of western Germany since 2007.

The original Berlin Love Parade grew from a 1989 peace demonstration into a huge outdoor celebration of club culture that drew about 1.5 million people at its peak in 1999. But it suffered from financial problems and tensions with city officials in later years, and eventually moved.

The website of the Love Parade — whose motto this year was "The Art of Love — went black on Saturday night, with words in white saying:

"Our wish to arrange a happy togetherness was overshadowed by the tragic accidents today. ... Our sincere condolences to all the relatives and our thoughts are with all of those who are currently being taken care of."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Scores killed or injured in stampede at German festival

  1. Transcript of: Scores killed or injured in stampede at German festival

    LESTER HOLT, anchor: A scene of horror today at a music festival in Germany . As thousands of people tried to get into the concert, the surging crowd turned into a stampede, leaving at least 17 people trampled to death even as the concert continued. NBC 's Tazeen Ahmad has details.

    TAZEEN AHMAD reporting: This is the moment a summer music festival went terribly wrong. Thousands had been trying to get into the huge outdoor event in the city of Duisburg in northern Germany . Police closed off the area due to overcrowding, asking revelers to go in the other direction. In the chaos and confusion, people started pushing and then falling over.

    Unidentified Man: There were more and more people coming in. Then there was a blockade frenzy. All the time, more people from behind. Then people started to tumble. People were dying in front there, people were trampling over others.

    AHMAD: At least 17 people were crushed to death, and 80 injured. Emergency workers on the scene struggled to get to the injured, many of whom were still stuck in the large tunnel. Meanwhile, inside the festival, revelers continued to party, unaware of the stampede. The open-air techno music festival is an annual event, and a million people were expected today. City officials said tonight they allowed the festival to go on, fearing it would spark more panic. Police are still trying to make sense of events, and have described the situation as very chaotic. It's the worst incident of its

Photos: Panic at German music festival

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  1. Thousands gather in front of a tunnel just before after a mass panic took place at this year's techno-music festival Love Parade in Duisburg, Germany, on Saturday, July 24. At least 18 people died when crowds of people were crushed in a tunnel leading to the event grounds, police said. (Peter Malzbender / Pool via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. People try to flee the event after the stampede. Authorities said some people may have been killed or injured when they jumped over a barrier and fell several yards. (Erik Wiffers / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Injured people get first aid from emergency workers who were hampered getting to the scene by the huge crowd. (Hermann J. Knippertz / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Rescue workers stand beside bodies near the entrance to the tunnel where the panic broke out. (Stephan Eickershoff / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Emergency services personal carry an injured person out of the tunnel and into a waiting ambulance. At least 80 were injured at the music festival. (Getty Images / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Two young people comfort each other at the scene in Duisburg, Germany. (Fredederic Victor Scheidemann / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. One of the injured is carried away to receive medical treatment. 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. (Achim Scheidemann / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. The scene after the stampede at the Love Parade festival. Duisburg city officials decided at a crisis meeting to let the parade go on to prevent more panic and another stampede, said city spokesman Frank Kopatschek. (EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A participant rests after the stampede among the thousands of festival goers. (Hermann J. Knippertz / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Police officers and journalists walk through the tunnel where the panic began. Criticism was quickly laid on the single entrance to the festival grounds through the tunnel. (Thomas Peter / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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