Covering the aftermath of the Love Parade stampede

July 29, 2010

A rucksack is seen at the site where a stampede killed some 21 people during a festival in Duisburg July 24, 2010.  REUTERS/Thomas Peter

When I arrived at the scene there was no crowd, no screams, just this dark tunnel. A grimy concrete tube about the length of two soccer pitches and the width of a two-lane country road. It felt cramped and haunting even when it stood empty.

But it was not empty.

Broken bottles, ripped off rucksacks, torn-off shoes, a sleeping bag, medical gloves and thermo-blankets bore witness to the tragedy that had occurred here a couple of hours earlier. Young men in light-blue t-shirts of the security firm that was hired to look after the safety of the guests loitered at the rear of the tunnel, their faces gray from disbelief.

The throbbing base of the techno music that came down from the festival above reminded us why those, whose journey ended here, had come: to take part in what was to be the world’s biggest party. Every so often, when the base line heightened to a frenzy, elated yells of dancing revelers pierced the night. For them the party went on.

Two "Love Parade" revellers pose in front of two volunteers of Germany's Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW) in Duisburg July 24, 2010.   REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

By this point the medics and emergency cars had left and taken with them hundreds of injured revelers. They had survived the stampede. Others did not. Their bodies lay behind meshed wire fences covered with blue tarpaulins to shield the scene from inquisitive eyes. More people died in hospital. By Wednesday the death toll stood at 21.

People injured in the stampede at the Love Parade "The art of Love", receive first aid in the western German city of Duisburg July 24, 2010.   REUTERS/Kirsten Neumann

 

A man reacts at the site where a stampede killed some 21 people during a festival in Duisburg July 24, 2010.  REUTERS/Rene Werner

We picked up pictures from local photographers that showed the revelers’ desperate attempts to escape from the crush and the subsequent rescue efforts. Yes, these pictures were of graphic nature. But that’s what you need to show the extent of the disaster.

German police officers lift up a woman from the crowd of revellers outside a tunnel at the Love Parade "The art of Love" in the western German city of Duisburg July 24, 2010.  REUTERS/Daniel Naupold

Yet, our task was to cover the aftermath.

Aftermath photography is evocative and subtle. Through pictures of objects or people that are imbued with the dew of a bygone tragedy, it reflects the horror of disaster without showing the gore. There are images of people laying flowers and lighting candles, which usually happens the following day. They come to show empathy with the victims or turn up out of curiosity. A scene of tragedy has an attraction many cannot resist. But there are also those who return to ponder on the horror they have been through.

Reveler Heiko Hammer places a candle at the tunnel where revelers were crushed during a stampede near the Love Parade festival in Duisburg July 25, 2010.  REUTERS/Thomas Peter

Early on Sunday I met Heiko Hammer, a 38-year-old who sported the hallmarks of a typical Love Parade reveler: mirrored shades, bright red trainers and a combat-style jacket. He was trapped in the crowd at the rear of the tunnel when the panic broke out. “I will never forget the face of the people who managed to escape. They looked as if they had just come from war,” he said. “People who go to the Love Parade are like birds of paradise. If you trap them, they die. Why were there all those fences?” he asked.

Early on Sunday the police allowed us to enter the area behind the blue tarpaulin at the foot of a staircase, where many people tried to escape from the crowd crush. This was where most of the deaths occurred. My colleague Wolfgang Rattay had arrived there first. I met him at the exit of the small enclosure and he asked me to stay on to see what other images I could make. Wolfgang had taken the picture that was arguably the most emblematic image of this story: the outlines of bodies, painted with white paint on the pavement that was littered with the debris of the disaster. Hundreds of crushed bottles, personal belongings and disposable first aid kits.

Positions of victims 14 and 15 of a deadly stampede are marked on the street between two tunnels in Duisburg July 25, 2010.  REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

A short rainstorm that morning had turned the dusty ground into slush.

The scene was too chaotic to extract meaningful overview pictures other than the ones Wolfgang had already taken. So I scanned the ground as I was curious to find out what distinguished this ostensible pile of rubbish from an ordinary pile of rubbish. I did not have to look hard. Sunglasses. I found dozens of mangled sunglasses. Red ones, yellow ones, pink ones. Some were heart-shaped, others had blades instead of glasses. They were cheap models, those that people wear to have fun, not to protect themselves from the sun. Each one had belonged to someone, for whom this party had turned into a nightmare. I found them driven into the ground by hundreds of feet, next to rubber gloves, a ripped-off belt buckle and trash. I took a picture of every one I could find. That was the best I could do to tell this sad story.

A combination of pictures shows sunglasses at the site where revelers were crushed during a stampede near the Love Parade festival in Duisburg July 25, 2010.   REUTERS/Thomas Peter

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One comment

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Tom – you’re collection of images of the glasses still haunts me. It’s such a symbol of the tragedy that took place.

Posted by CorinnePerkins | Report as abusive