STRASBOURG, France — Despite heavy storm warnings, no one could have predicted the tornado-like winds that sent a huge tree crashing down on spectators at a Yiddish music concert, killing 11 people, regional officials said Saturday.
Still, other outdoor concerts were canceled around France and a judicial investigation was launched to determine who might bear responsibility for the deadly accident late Friday.
Some 85 people were injured when winds of up to 93 mph suddenly ripped through the picturesque Alsace region north of Strasbourg. Fifty-two remained hospitalized Saturday evening — 17 of them in serious condition.
Pope John Paul II was among those who sent condolences to families of those killed at the summer concert, which was staged by the European Center for Yiddish Culture. The Strasbourg-based group is dedicated to reviving the language spoken by European Jewry before World War II.
Rescuers cut through the tree's leafy branches to get to victims trapped beneath the tarp.
"It was a panic," said Dominique Klein, a concert technician interviewed on French television. "We tried to get through the branches."
Dazed concertgoers wandered aimlessly in the pouring rain, looking for friends, as firefighters hampered by the wet conditions pulled victims out on stretchers.
The storm had been preceded by numerous bad weather warnings, but the mayor of Strasbourg described the disaster as an accident of fate.
If the spectators "had remained seated on the bleachers, they would not have been touched," said Mayor Fabienne Keller on France-Info radio. "It is truly fate."
The top official of the region, the prefect Philippe Marland, also evoking "fate," described the storm as a "tornado" that lasted 10 minutes.