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Houston authorities are investigating what officials described as a crowd surge that killed at least eight people and injured scores of others, turning the Astroworld Festival into one of the worst musical concert tragedies in U.S. history.
Officials declared a “mass casualty incident” at 9:38 p.m. Friday local time during the festival at NRG Park, where an estimated 50,000 people were in attendance, Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña told reporters during an overnight news briefing.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said at a Saturday news conference there were 25 people transported to the hospital, and 13 are still hospitalized. A 10-year-old is in critical condition, officials said. There were scores of other injuries, Peña said. At least 11 suffered cardiac arrest, he added.
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The victims who died ranged in age from 14 to 27, Turner said. One person’s age was unknown. Turner did not identify those who were killed in the incident, and said family members of six of the eight have been notified. Autopsies will be performed before the victims are released to their families, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said.
Officials who spoke during Saturday’s news conference did not confirm causes of death for the eight victims.
The surge began around the time that rapper Travis Scott, a festival headliner, took the stage.
“The crowd began to compress toward the front of the stage, and that caused some panic, and it started causing some injuries,” said Peña. “People began to fall out, become unconscious, and it created additional panic.”
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Many people were also treated at the scene, where a field hospital had been set up. About 300 people were examined at that site throughout the day, said Peña.
Astroworld promoters had medical personnel and an emergency transport component at the festival, but “they were quickly overwhelmed” as the injury count mounted at “really a chaotic event,” the fire chief said.
Amy Harris, a freelance photographer from the Cincinnati area, told USA TODAY people at festivals are usually “happy to be there and relaxed.” But this one was different from the 10 or more concerts she’s photographed for at least the last 12 summers.
She “just felt this aggression from the crowd all day,” said Harris, who added that the atmosphere put her on guard in much the same way that assignments to photograph protests last year did.
There was enough room inside NRG Park for the crowd, she said. However, many festivalgoers tried to get as close to the stage as possible.
“It made me very anxious and uneasy,” said Harris.
Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said during the overnight news briefing that investigators did not yet have identifications for many of the injured.
In all, 528 police officers and 755 security officers had been assigned to the festival, said Finner. There had been a problem with concertgoers who pushed past security and ticket scanners when the festival gates opened on Friday afternoon. However, that situation was brought under control and was unrelated to the subsequent tragedy, said Finner.
Turner on Saturday announced people looking to reunite with a loved one could call a help line.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said he has directed the state’s Department of Public Safety to assist with the investigation of the tragedy.
Astroworld is a two-day music festival that was was sold out, according to the Astroworld website. The rest of Friday night’s performances and Saturday’s show were canceled.
“Our hearts are with the Astroworld Festival family tonight – especially those we lost and their loved ones,” show promoters tweeted early Saturday. “We are focused on supporting local officials however we can.”
Scott tweeted on Saturday that he was “absolutely devastated by what took place last night.”
“I am committed to working together with the Houston Community to heal and support the families in need,” he added.
The festival was staging its third year of music. Musicians and artists who were scheduled to appear included Young Thug and YSL, Bad Bunny, Chief Keef, Tame Impala, Earth Wind & Fire and others, according to the festival’s website.
Drake joined Scott on-stage at the concert — which was livestreamed by Apple Music — and posted photos to Instagram after the performance.
Houston Police Executive Assistant Chief Larry Satterwhite was near the front of the crowd and said it seemed the surge “happened all at once.”
“Suddenly we had several people down on the ground, experiencing some type of cardiac arrest or some type of medical episode,” Satterwhite said. “And so we immediately started doing CPR, and moving people right then, and that’s when I went and met with the promoters, and Live Nation, and they agreed to end early in the interest of public safety.”
Finner on Saturday said authorities were investigating reports of suspicious activity in the crowd, including a security officer who told medical examiners that he felt a prick in his neck during the chaos and lost consciousness while being examined by first responders.
He was revived by the opioid antidote Narcan, Finner said.
Finner told reporters that Scott and the event promoters cooperated with police.
The incident resulted in the most non-shooting deaths at a U.S. concert since the 2003 Station nightclub fire that killed 100 people in Rhode Island.
Eleven people died and about two dozen were injured in 1979 at a concert for The Who as thousands of fans tried to get into Cincinnati’s riverfront coliseum.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Astroworld Festival: Multiple deaths in crowd surge at Texas concert