‘It was like watching a Jenga tower topple:’ At least 8 dead at Travis Scott’s Astroworld

At least eight people are dead and dozens more injured after a sold-out crowd of roughly 50,000 surged during rapper Travis Scott’s  performance late Friday at the Astroworld Festival outside NRG Park, overwhelming security forces and resulting in one of the deadliest concerts in U.S. history.

As Scott’s performance started shortly after 9 p.m., the chaotic crowd seemingly swallowed everyone in it, Instagram user SeannaFaith wrote.

“The rush of people became tighter and tighter. .. Breathing became something only a few were capable. The rest were crushed or unable to breathe in the thick hot air,” she wrote. “It was like watching a Jenga tower topple. Person after person were sucked down…. You were at the mercy of the wave.”

“We begged security to help us, for the performer to see us and know something was wrong,” she continued. “None of that came, we continued to drown.”

Then, one person fell. And another.

“We had a mass casualty event here at Astroworld,” Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña said. 

Seventeen people were taken to the hospital, 11 of whom Peña described as being in cardiac arrest. Eight are confirmed dead. Some of the victims might be children.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo called it an “extremely tragic night,” as families awaited word on whether their loved ones were safe. The Houston Police Department is in the process of identifying victims at hospitals, and a reunification center was set up at the Wyndham Houston Hotel at 8686 Kirby. People searching for loved ones can also call 832-393-2991 or 832-393-2990.

“Our hearts are broken,” Hidalgo said. “People go to these events looking for a good time. It’s not the kind of event where you expect to find out about fatalities.”

Festival organizers offered condolences just before 6 a.m. Saturday across their social media accounts.

“Our hearts are with the Astroworld Festival family tonight — especially those we lost and their loved ones. We are focused on supporting local officials however we can,” it read. “As authorities mentioned in their press conference earlier, they are looking into the series of cardiac arrests that took place. If you have any relevant information on this, please reach out to Houston Police. Thank you to our partners at the Houston Police Department, Fire Department and NRG Park for their response and support.

HPD Chief Troy Finner said 367 police officers and 241 security officers were on duty throughout the day as a sold-out crowd of 50,000 turned out for the planned two-day event, an homage to Houston’s shuttered Astroworld amusement park. 

Thousands of fans stormed the entrance gates around 2 p.m., bypassing security and metal detectors. Some were detained by security and mounted HPD officers, but no serious injuries were reported. It was similar to the start of the 2019 event.

Scott, a Houston native, is known for high-octane performances and aggressive audiences that he refers to as “ragers.” Rapper Drake, who calls Houston a second home, made a surprise appearance during Scott’s set, further amping up the excitement. The performance was streamed live on Apple Music in 167 countries and regions.

Around 9 p.m., the crowd for Scott’s 75-minute closing performance began pushing toward the stage, according to Peña, causing panic and injuries. Scott stopped multiple times as he spotted fans in distress and asked security to help them out of the crowd. Emergency vehicles, lights and sirens flashing, cut through the crowd several times.

The mayhem escalated until 9:38 p.m., when the “mass-casualty incident” was triggered. About 55 Houston Fire Department units respond and started performing CPR on the unconscious. Videos taken at NRG Park began to surface on social media overnight, showing the melee. 

“It happened all at once,” Executive Assistant Chief Larry Satterwhite said. “It seemed like it happened over the course of just a few minutes.”

One video circulated of paramedics driving on a vehicle like a golf cart, performing chest compressions on a concertgoer who had fallen unconscious, as tens of thousands of spectators continued partying in the background. A few concert-goers can be seen climbing on top of the emergency vehicles that were trying to navigate the crowd.

The majority of people transported were in their 20s, Satterwhite said. “We have parents asking about teenagers,” he said. “We’re still working through everything.”

Earlier in the day, security had confronted people without tickets, breaking through barricades and hoping to gain entry to the festival.

“A lot of times, kids don’t make the best decisions,” Satterwhite said, “Because they’re young and amped up…. I just think it was so many people — and passion — to see this entertainer. I don’t know, and a lot of bad decisions”

More than 300 people were treated at the field hospital at NRG Park throughout the day because of heat exhaustion, alcohol poisoning and overdoses. The concert ended early “in the interest of public safety.”

“Nobody could dream of this. But we’re here, and I think it’s very important that none of us speculate. Nobody has all the answers tonight,” Finner said. He referenced “rumors of people injecting people (with) drugs.”

“If you don’t have facts, if you don’t have evidence, I’m not going to speak against that. We have hurting families out here,” he said.

Travis Scott performs at Astroworld Festival at NRG park on Friday, November 5, 2021.
Travis Scott performs at Astroworld Festival at NRG park on Friday, November 5, 2021.Jamaal Ellis/Contributor

Concert-goer Steven Gutierrez Gutierrez, 26, watched in horror as people flooded toward the stage.

“It got to the point people were stepping on other people,” said Gutierrez, who traveled from upstate New York to Houston for the event with his friends, Angel Colon from New Jersey, and Kevin Rosario and Andrew Delgado, both from Florida.

Fans pressed up against each other, moving almost as one unit in the mosh pit, he said. In some places, people were so crammed together that they started hyperventilating or struggling to leave.

“We were hanging on to each other to avoid getting separated,” he said. “If you let go, you could easily drift apart.”

They have gone to other festivals, but Astroworld was different.

“It’s scary to think we had a great time and for other people it was the last time they were alive,” said Rosario.

Gutierrez added: “As humans, we have to do better.”

One woman who attended called the crowd aggressive and said she got hit multiple times.

“I had never been to a music festival with so many angry people,” she said.

Billy Nasser, a 24-year-old DJ who said he had attended about 50 Scott shows, arrived at the festival about 1:30 p.m. He walked around different stages, seeing Scott’s DJ, checking out SZA and then walking to the main act of the evening.

The first four or five songs, Nasser said, were fine. Then the crowd started surging, and people started falling.

“Everyone in the front was getting crushed,” Nasser recounted early Saturday over the telephone. “The crowd was moving so hard, people were falling over and then tripping over the people on the ground.”

People started calling over Nasser, who wears doctor scrubs as his DJ outfit, for help, he said. He tried helping up one kid who was on the floor. Some people kept dancing, seemingly not realizing what was happening. The kid he picked up stumbled around and fell on a pile of others.

Nasser said he realized there was a pile building up, people likely dying, and he started panicking.

“I have never seen anything like it,” he said. “I have been to so many festivals. I have never seen anything like this before.”

Eric Daniels watched the concert with his son from the disabled section, where they saw several people…

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