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Cancellations and evacuations: Storms disrupt weekend’s music festivals

07:21 11/07/2023

Severe thunderstorms across Belgium – particularly in Wallonia – have caused disruptions to a number of prominent summer music festivals over the weekend.

The Les Ardentes festival cancelled its final day of performances, LaSemo was evacuated and later reopened, and Brosella was delayed.

Many festival attendees reacted in anger at the disruptions, saying that authorities did not communicate information about delays and cancellations until the last minute.

For fans who travelled from other countries, this meant that a long journey ended with having to turn around and go home.

An estimated 20,000 campers were evacuated from Les Ardentes. After the weather situation improved, those unable to return to their homes were invited back to the campsite to stay the night.

“The faces here are depressed – most of the festival-goers come from France or England,” an RTL journalist reported. “This back and forth is starting to be difficult to digest.”

Authorities said they did not want to take any risks following the "catastrophic forecasts" issued by Belgium’s Royal Meteorological Institute (RMI).

Their caution is rooted in experience: 2021’s summer storms brought fatal flooding to Belgium and five festival attendees died at Pukkelpop in 2011 after two marquees collapsed during a storm.

“I’m disgusted,” one French attendee told RTL, speaking of this weekend’s storm-related cancellations and explaining that he had driven three hours to attend Les Ardentes.

Another attendee complained that they had spent €300 on their tickets, only for the last day to be cancelled.

“Frankly, it's not cool, they told us at the last minute,” still another complained. “But we still had a really good festival and we'd like to thank them in spite of everything.”

The mayor of Liège, where Les Ardentes is held, described the decision as difficult, but essential. An estimated 70,000 people were expected to have attended.

“This decision is motivated by the formal opinion of the RMI, which places the zone in phase orange with winds that are too strong for the installations and with hail,” Willy Demeyer said.

“The hailstones were expected to be up to 5cm in size. If they hit you on the head, you could fracture your skull.”

LaSemo, which was preventively evacuated early on Sunday afternoon due to the risk of thunderstorms, reopened its doors at later on Sunday afternoon. Brosella, in Brussels' Osseghem Park, delayed its programme of concerts and reopened at 18.00.

Photo: Bruno Fahy/Belga

Written by Helen Lyons