By JUAN A. LOZANO
HOUSTON (AP) – Crowds at a Houston music festival suddenly rushed to the stage during a performance by rapper Travis Scott, hugging fans so tight they couldn’t breathe or move their arms and killing eight people in chaos.
The pandemonium took place on Friday evening at Astroworld, a full two-day event at NRG Park with around 50,000 people in attendance. As a timer clicked until the performance began, the crowd moved on.
âAs soon as he jumped on stage, it was like an energy took over and everything just went haywire,â said Niaara Goods. âSuddenly your ribs are crushed. You have someone’s arm around your neck. You try to breathe, but you can’t.
Goods said she was so desperate to get out that she bit a man on the shoulder to get him to move.
The dead were between 14 and 27 years old and 13 people were still hospitalized on Saturday, Mayor Sylvester Turner said. He called the disaster a “tragedy on many different levels” and said it was too early to draw any conclusions about what was wrong.
“It may well be that this tragedy is the result of unforeseeable events, of circumstances that could not have been avoided,” said Justice Lina Hidalgo, Harris County’s top elected official. “But until we figure it out, I’ll ask the tough questions.”
Experts who have studied crowd influx deaths say they are often the result of density – too many people crammed into a small space. Crowds often run away from a perceived threat or move towards something they want, like an artist, before hitting a barrier.
G. Keith Still, visiting professor of crowd science at Suffolk University in the UK, testified as an expert witness in court cases involving crowds. He said he usually does not look at eyewitness reports when first analyzing an incident because emotions can cloud the picture and witnesses can only see what is around them immediately.
Based on fire codes, the venue could have accommodated 200,000 people, but city officials limited attendance to 50,000, said Houston Fire Chief Samuel PeÃ±a.
âIt was the crowd control at the stage level that was the problem, especially as the crowd started to soar towards the stage,â said PeÃ±a.
The deaths were reminiscent of a 1979 Who’s concert where 11 people died as thousands of fans attempted to enter Cincinnati’s Riverfront Coliseum. Other past crowd disasters include the deaths of 97 people at an overcrowded Hillsborough stadium in 1989 in Sheffield, England, and numerous disasters related to the annual hajj in Saudi Arabia.
People in the Houston crowd reported a lot of scrambling during the performances leading up to Scott’s set.
Then, when Scott took the stage, the crowd seemed to rush forward, trying to get closer to the stage, said Nick Johnson, a high school student from the Houston suburb of Friendswood who was at the concert.
âEveryone was fainting around you and everyone was trying to help each other. But you just couldn’t move. You couldn’t do anything. You can’t even raise your arms, âJohnson said. “It just got worse and worse.”
Johnson said fans started crashing and people started screaming. He said it was like 100 degrees in the crowd.
Scott seemed to be aware that something was going on in the crowd, but he may not have understood the gravity of the situation, Johnson said.
On a video posted to social media, Scott could be seen stopping the gig at one point and asking for help from someone in the audience: “Security, someone is helping real quick.”
In a tweet posted on Saturday, Scott said he was “absolutely devastated by what happened last night”. He is committed to working “with the Houston community to heal and support families in need.”
Amy Harris, a freelance photographer for the Associated Press, described an “aggressive” crowd atmosphere throughout the day due to the way the fans behaved – pushing and rushing to barricades on the stage and prohibiting VIP and admission areas.
âIt was definitely the most chaotic festival environment I’ve been in,â Harris said. “I felt uncomfortable all day.”
Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said his department noticed attendees “come down” at 9:30 p.m. and immediately notified concert organizers. The event was canceled 40 minutes later after discussions with the fire department and NRG Park officials.
Finner defended the length of time it took for the event to be called off.
âYou can’t just close when you have 50,000 – over 50,000 – individuals, okay? Finner said. âWe have to worry about riots – riots – when you have such a young group. “
At one point, Gerardo Abad-Garcia was squeezed into the crowd so tightly that he couldn’t remove his arms from his chest. During the performance leading up to Scott’s, he began to worry about his safety.
âI just couldn’t breathe. I was compressed, âhe said. A security guard helped him and others to climb a fence and get out.
He described the crowd during Scott’s set as a wave that “went back and forth”. He said some people tried to help those who passed out on the ground, while other onlookers seemed to ignore them and continued to watch the show.
Some members of the audience said barricades erected near the stage and to separate different sections of ticket holders prevented fans from escaping.
Billy Nasser described an area created by a stage barricade as a closet into which people were thrown and the door was closed. Joshua Robinson said the barricades created an area that “was just too small and compact” for the number of people there.
Part of the investigation will include examining how the area around the scene was designed, the fire chief said.
Authorities did not disclose the cause of death and the dead were not immediately identified.
The police chief said authorities were investigating reports of suspicious activity in the crowd, including a security guard who told police he felt a prick in his neck during the chaos and had lost consciousness while being examined by first responders. He was revived by the opioid antidote Narcan.
Scott, one of music’s biggest young stars, founded the Astroworld Festival in 2018. The Houston native, 30, has been nominated for eight Grammy Awards. He has a 3-year-old daughter with Kylie Jenner, who announced in September that she was pregnant with their second child.
Drake joined Scott on stage at the concert, which was broadcast live by Apple Music.
Associated Press editors Ryan Pearson in Los Angeles, Stan Choe in New York, David Sharp in Portland, Maine, and Desiree Seals in Atlanta contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to show that Travis Scott is 30, not 29.