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Investigation continues in Houston's Astroworld festival deaths

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

It's been a week since a deadly crush at a Houston music festival headlined by the rapper Travis Scott. Within minutes of the concert beginning, people began to pass out. Nine people were killed. Now questions are being asked of the artist, of concert organizers and police and fire officials. As NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports, investigators and experts are trying to understand what went wrong.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Just before the concert began, a giant digital clock onstage counted down the last few minutes before rapper Travis Scott appeared. It motivated the massive crowd to move toward the stage.

ANDREW MILSTEN: I think it has more to do with the promoter and, you know, how they decide to sell the tickets.

GOODWYN: Andrew Milsten is an emergency room doctor at the University of Massachusetts who also specializes in disaster medicine, working at massive concert events. In Houston, the movement of thousands toward the stage started as soon as the concert began. Serious injuries followed, the crushing pressure so intense fans became unable to breathe.

MILSTEN: The police especially have a kind of a plan, so for them to let it continue even after injuries have started, I would say that I don't know why they let the concert continue like that.

GOODWYN: The Houston Police Department has said it didn't have the authority to end the concert.

From early Friday morning, there had been problems with multitudes, who evidently were without tickets, cutting or climbing over the fence around the concert venue. Within the first 30 minutes of the concert beginning, evidence that fans were being trampled, that multiple people were unconscious or in cardiac arrest had become clear to the Houston Police Department. The Houston Chronicle has obtained a copy of the police radio traffic. In it, a senior officer tells his more than 500 men and women on duty and listening to him on the radio to calm down, stop talking and prepare for orders.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: All right. All my units, I need you guys to be very clear on the radio. Take a deep breath before you talk. All field forces, I need you to make sure you have all your people are at least accounted for, and stand by for instructions. Everybody take a deep breath. You're doing a good job. Keep working the situation we have. Do what you can.

PAUL WERTHEIMER: Maybe the question should be how it wasn't organized instead of how it was organized. It was a failed organizational plan and a failed management of the event.

GOODWYN: Paul Wertheimer is the head of Crowd Management Strategies in Los Angeles. Eventually, Houston law enforcement declared the concert a mass casualty event. But nevertheless, the show was allowed to continue until it ended around 10:15. Eight people were dead. Another would die a week later.

WERTHEIMER: They have convoluted systems when it comes to emergencies like this. You have to talk to the production person. You have to get the promoters rep. And the thing goes on and on. It's clumsy and cumbersome, and it's intentional because they want to keep the show going.

GOODWYN: The show must go on is a powerful element when a concert has more than 50,000 fans, many who traveled across the country to attend. In Houston, Travis Scott's show went close, if not completely, to its very end, but the lives of nine of his fans did not.

Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.