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Belgium music festival canceled after stage collapse kills 5

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Deadly stage collapse in Belgium
  • NEW: Three people are heavily injured
  • The three-day festival was expected to draw 60,000 people, organizers say
  • Organizers cancel the festival, saying they are in mourning
  • Foo Fighters tweet: "Our hearts go out to everyone affected by the tragic events"

(CNN) -- One of Europe's largest outdoor music festivals was canceled Friday after a stage collapsed during a violent storm in Belgium, killing five people and injuring 50, organizers said.

Belgian authorities confirmed Friday that the death toll has gone up.

"A fifth person has died," Andy Payne, spokesman for the nation's crisis center, told CNN. He said he did not know the circumstances surrounding the death.

Three people were heavily injured, said Katrien Goossens, spokeswoman for the festival organizer.

The families of the victims have been contacted, she said. In addition, the festival is providing lodging, food and clothes for those concertgoers from abroad who have tickets to return home on Sunday.

The storm struck Thursday just hours after Pukkelpop kicked off. The scheduled three-day event was in Hasselt, east of Brussels.

Strong winds ripped up trees and smashed them into one of the festival's eight stages, Belga national press agency reported.

Belgian authorities are investigating the stage collapse, which struck those who had gathered to watch the Smith Westerns perform, Belga reported.

"Pukkelpop is in deep mourning. We truly sympathize with the families and friends of the victims," said a statement posted by organizers on the festival website.

"Words are not enough. We have struggled with the decision to continue the festival. Therefore we have decided to cancel Pukkelpop 2011."

Prime Minister Yves Leterme, who visited the site Thursday night, has expressed his condolences and "is very shocked about the incident," a representative told CNN Friday.

Festival-goer Joachim Brokken described a scene of chaos after the storm hit.

Deadly storm hits Belgian music festival
  • Belgium
  • Music Festivals
  • Weather

"We were in a big tent, when suddenly it started to rain very heavily," he told CNN. "We thought it might be better to stay in the tent but that was a wrong decision. Some minutes later the wind blew away the tent, and some seconds later it collapsed.

"Everybody was screaming and I was especially worried because a friend of us had disappeared. But we found him some minutes later and then we ran to the exit like everybody else."

His sister, Jolien Brokken, said she and her parents, who live near the site, were "really worried" when the storm worsened and they could not get hold of Joachim. Now she has offered to drive home anyone stranded after the festival was canceled.

More than 60,000 people were expected to attend Pukkelpop, which was to feature music by the Foo Fighters, 30 Seconds to Mars and Eminem, organizers said.

"We call on all Pukkelpoppers to return home calmly," the statement said.

Organizers said they were providing additional buses and train service to get festival-goers home.

"We ask everyone to understand that this decision was extremely difficult to make," the organizers' statement said.

Jared Leto, lead singer of 30 Seconds to Mars, was preparing to take the stage when the storm struck.

"Our deepest thoughts and sympathies to the families and friends of those who lost their lives today at the show in Belgium," Leto said in a statement. "We are absolutely devastated that this celebration ended in tragedy."

The Foo Fighters, who were set to headline the festival on the main stage Thursday, tweeted: "Our hearts go out to everyone affected by the tragic events."

The Belgium incident follows one a week earlier in the United States, when a storm caused a stage to collapse at the Indiana State Fair. Five people were killed and 40 injured in the accident, which occurred just before the country music duo Sugarland was to take the stage.

In early August, severe weather caused a screen to collapse onto a stage just before a Flaming Lips performance in Oklahoma.

A month earlier, a severe storm toppled a stage while rock band Cheap Trick was performing at the Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest in Canada. No serious injuries were reported in that incident.

CNN's Rick Noack, Ben Brumfield and Chelsea J. Carter contributed to this report.