Astroworld festival concert crush leaves at least eight dead. Officials in Texas said at least eight people were dead and several injured after a crowd surge at a music festival on Friday night. A compression towards the stage at the Astroworld Festival occurred just after 9pm and while the rapper Travis Scott was performing, Samuel Peña, the Houston fire chief, told reporters.

“The crowd began to compress towards the front of the stage and that caused some panic and it started causing some injuries,” Peña said. “People began to fall out, become unconscious, and it created additional panic.”

The show was called off and the rest of the festival cancelled.

On Saturday the mayor of Houston, Sylvester Turner, expressed condolences for the families of those killed and called for a “detailed briefing from all stakeholders”, including the promoter, Live Nation.

Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, also expressed his sympathies and said state resources would be made available to investigators.

Drake joined Scott onstage at the concert, which was livestreamed by Apple Music, and posted photos to Instagram after the performance.

The Houston Chronicle said Scott stopped a number of times during his 75-minute set when he spotted fans in distress, asking security to make sure they were OK and help them out. Emergency vehicles, with lights and alarms flashing, cut through the crowd several times.

A senior Houston police officer, Larry Satterwhite, was near the front of the crowd. He 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,” he 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.”

One audience member, Seanna Faith McCarty, described the chaos she and a friend experienced during Scott’s performance.

“Within the first 30 seconds of the first song, people began to drown – in other people,” she wrote on Instagram. “The rush of people became tighter and tighter. Breathing became something only a few were capable of. The rest were crushed or unable to breathe in the thick, hot air.”

Suddenly, McCarty said, she realized she and those around her were at risk of being trampled to death.

“It was like watching a Jenga tower topple,” she wrote. “Person after person were sucked down. You could not guess from which direction the shove of hundreds of people would come next. You were at the mercy of the wave.”

When McCarty got to safety, she said, she climbed on to a platform and attempted to warn a cameraman. A video posted on social media showed her yelling and trying to redirect his camera at the crowd. The cameraman got angry, she wrote, adding that another man threatened to throw her off the platform.

“Here were two people that could actually do something, had the power to do something,” McCarty wrote. “Cut the camera, call in back-up, pause something. They did nothing. I looked over at the [crowd]. People were screaming, reaching out their hands toward me, calling for help.”

The fire department said a reunification centre at a hotel had been set up for families who had not heard from loved ones. The Houston office of emergency management created a hotline for people unable to contact festival-goers.

“[It’s] obviously a very extremely tragic night,” said Lina Hidalgo, the Harris county judge. “Our hearts are broken. Tonight’s focus, though, needs to be on the families and on the lives that we’ve lost. Many of them extremely young, tragically young.”

Officials transported 17 people to hospital, including 11 in cardiac arrest, Peña said. Event promoters had arranged for medical units to be on scene but once the crowd surge began those units were “quickly overwhelmed”, Peña said. More than 300 were treated at NRG Park, where a field hospital was set up.

SZA, 21 Savage, Bad Bunny, Tame Impala and Earth, Wind and Fire were among acts scheduled to perform in what was slated as a two-day event.

Approximately 50,000 people attended, Peña said, adding that officials did not immediately know the causes of death for the eight people and a medical examiner would investigate. The deceased were not immediately identified.

Our hearts are with the Astroworld Festival family tonight – especially those we lost and their loved ones,” organizers said in a statement.

Troy Finner, Houston’s police chief, said: “I think it’s very important that none of us speculate. Nobody has all the answers tonight.”

Finner also said there had been several rumours surrounding the event that authorities would look into.

“We’re going to do an investigation and find out because it’s not fair to the producers, to anybody else involved, until we determine what happened, what caused the surge. We don’t know, but we will find out.”

It was the most accidental deaths at a US concert since the Station nightclub fire, which killed 100 people in Rhode Island in 2003. In 1979, 11 people died and about two dozen were injured as thousands of fans tried to get into Cincinnati’s riverfront coliseum to see the Who perform.

In 2019, three Astroworld attendees were taken to hospital with leg injuries after being trampled, CNN reported.

DJ Billy Nasser told the Houston Chronicle he panicked on Friday night, when he started to realize people were probably dying in the pile of bodies around him.

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

Relief and reunions in sight as US finally lifts Covid travel restrictions

On 8 November, the US will ease restrictions that effectively halted tourism and non-essential travel from 33 countries, including the UK, most of Europe and China. The restrictions have separated families and loved ones, with thousands missing out on birthdays, holidays – and in the case of the British tennis star Emma Raducanu’s parents – a US Open final.

Now all visitors with a WHO-approved vaccination (which includes AstraZeneca) will be allowed to visit the US. Visitors with passports from any country where fewer than 10% of the country’s population has been vaccinated will also be allowed.

Virgin Atlantic say bookings to the US, largely to New York, have surged 600% since the announcement was made. Delta Air Lines’ CEO, Ed Bastian, has predicted an “onslaught of travel all at once”, in November with queues likely at airports. Hotel prices in New York are also returning to normal levels after a summer where discounts abounded.

Tourism industry experts expect this surge to last for a while. “The pent-up demand from overseas to visit the US will remain strong for at least several years,” Tim Hentschel, HotelPlanner’s co-founder and CEO, told the Guardian.

Some form of travel ban has been in place since the start of 2020, Donald Trump issued the first proclamation that stopped most travellers from China visiting the US – with the list of banned countries quickly expanding. Land crossings from Mexico and Canada were also banned, although there were exemptions for green cards and some work visas.

For many, that ban has only worsened the toll of the pandemic, further isolating people as family members fell ill or life teetered on the edge of what was manageable.

Before the pandemic, Diana Jimenez, a 26-year old graphic designer living in Tijuana, Mexico, would cross the border every few months, mostly to see her sister and her family in Wyoming.

She says the lack of visitation has been hard in the last year, especially when her father got sick with cancer. After the restrictions are lifted, Jimenez plans on taking a road trip to visit her sister’s family. “We are only the two of us and we are really close,” Jimenez said. She misses her sister dearly, but really it’s her niece who she aches to see: “She’s 12, and she’s the love of my life. I used to clean her diapers when she was a baby,” says Jimenez.

Couples have also been split by the travel ban. Georgia Samuel is an Australian citizen who is currently studying for her master’s degree in communications at the University of Southern California, but has a boyfriend living near London. They last saw each other in July, when she moved to the US, but will reunite on 14 November when he flies in. “I was hoping that he’d be able to come to the US with me to help me set up my life,” Samuel said. They had spent many months working on trying to find a way around the ban, “which ultimately just wasn’t possible for us. I really felt like the ban was overextended and overdrawn for at least months, and I was really relieved when it was announced it would be removed.”

The concern over travel has led people to seek out advice and vent their frustrations online. On Reddit, a forum called r/UStravelban is filled with stories from people waiting to reunite with loved ones.

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