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there was hysteria as people bolted in fear for the EXITS / Footage family Shocked; Farming editor tells of stampede as birthday treat for his daughter turned into nightmare.

DAILY Post reporter Andrew Forgrave (pictured) has told of the panic as people fled after a suicide bomber struck at Manchester Arena.

He had been at the Ariane Grande gig with his wife, teenage daughter and her friend and was about to leave the packed venue when the blast ripped through the foyer.

In the initial confusion he, like many other people, believed the bang had been caused by popping balloons. He described a pall of smoke in the air and children as young as nine sobbing hysterically as fear gripped the crowd and thousands headed towards the exits.

"Everyone stopped and turned around. Following the bang, there was a momentary pause," he said.

"Then, on the far side of the arena a crowd panicked. From a staircase people ran in opposite directions. Some tripped and fell over seats and many were screaming.

"We watched on in mild disbelief. Like many around us, we suspected a blown speaker, or a popped pink balloon.

"The bang was loud, but the ground didn't shake. My wife said she heard a second bang. No one near us reacted immediately. It was only seeing the scenes opposite us when the fear began rippling through the crowd. It quickly turned to hysteria as those around us began bolting for the exit."

As Andrew and his wife clutched their daughter and her friend, a fleeing family tried to push them out of the way. Mrs Forgrave tried to calm them but the terrified family clambered over seats to try and escape. Andrew said a steward or manager took to the stage to try to calm everyone down, and temporarily the atmosphere inside the main arena calmed a little. The man assured everyone there was nothing to worry about and nothing had happened.

But the reassurances gave way to renewed panic as people leaving the seating area began seeing the wounded who had been in the blast area around the ticket offices near the main entrance.

Farming editor Andrew described seeing walking wounded and children screaming as they left their seats and neared the exits.

He added: "A man passed by, clutching a jumper to his head. We thought he must have been a stampede victim. We wandered on, passing a woman doubled over and in tears. Two more people were hunched against a wall.

"There was a thin pall of smoke hanging in the air. We wondered had someone let off a fire cracker. The idea it had been an explosion never occurred to us.

"My wife's instincts were to get the girls to safety, away from the crowds. As we got out into the fresh air, a PA system urged people to evacuate. We had thought nothing had happened.

"Next to us, a little girl, perhaps aged nine or 10, was bawling. People hurried along, some quiet. Two women were fishing for car keys in their handbags, both inconsolable. We had a bad feeling, because this was looking much worse than a few stampede injuries.

"Outside, the sounds of panic were mixed with the sirens of the emergency vehicles. More arrived in waves, a police helicopter circled overhead and officers armed with assault rifles fanned out onto the streets.

""The early statements to the media said only there had been an 'incident', but that was soon upgraded to a 'serious incident' and not long after the police spokesman confirmed there had been people killed."

Andrew added: "On the motorway, we listened to news alerts on the radio. Callers rang the station to say they'd heard the bang but didn't know much more. We drove in silence.

"As we neared home, my daughter read the latest news alerts from her mobile. She missed bits out - she couldn't bear to speak the words. I turned the radio back on. There had been multiple fatalities. My wife began shaking."

The family were inundated with messages from family and friends who knew they had been going to the concert as a birthday treat for Andrew's daughter. Andrew added: "My daughter couldn't sleep for worrying about the people who were killed and injured. A few hours earlier, thousands of teenagers, mostly girls, had been dancing joyfully and screaming so loudly. It just doesn't seem real."

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Publication:Daily Post (Conwy, Wales)
Date:May 24, 2017
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