ANCONA, Italy - A popular nightclub near Italy's eastern coastal city of Ancona witnessed chaotic scenes on Saturday after a stampede resulted in the death of six people and left more than 50 others injured.
According to the Ancona police, the incident took place at 1 am local time (midnight GMT) at the Lanterna Azzurra (Blue Lantern) club in Corinaldo town near the provincial capital of Ancona.
Authorities in the town said that over 1,000 people had gathered at the nightclub on Saturday to attend a concert by Italian rapper Sfera Ebbasta when the incident occurred.
Less than 30 minutes before the concert the popular rapper was to start, someone reportedly fired pepper spray at the crowd inside the club, causinga panic that resulted in a deadly stampede.
According to witnesses quoted in local reports, panicked revellers tried to flee from the source of the pungent odour, causing several to trip as she rushed towards the exit doors.
A preliminary investigation by authorities has revealed that the crowd panicked after the substance was sprayed inside the club and ran towards the three emergency exits.
One of these emergency exits was said to lead to a small bridge and the car park.
However, investigators said that the railing collapsed due to the force of the fleeing crowd, causing dozens of people to fall down and crushing those at the bottom of the pile.
Local media reports quoted a 16-year-old boy who suffered injuries as saying, "We were dancing and waiting for the concert to start when we smelt this pungent odour. We ran to one of the emergency exits but we found it blocked, the bouncers told us to go back."
Later on Saturday, cellphone footage appeared online, which showed a part of the walkway collapsing, with dozens of people seen tumbling down.
A report in the local newspaper Ancona Today said that a pile of abandoned shoes "testified to the chaos of the stampede, with survivors and the bereaved weeping outside the nightclub."
The incident sparked as massive emergency operation, as several ambulances and police officers gathered at the nightclub.
Ancona police chief Oreste Capocasa said that the tragic accident left six people dead and more than 59 people injured.
He added that two teenage boys, three teenage girls aged between 14 and 16 years, and a 39-year-old woman were killed in the stampede.
The adult woman killed in the incident had accompanied her eight-year-old daughter to the concern.
Officials said that 13 of those injured in the incident were in a serious condition and were aged all aged between 14 and 20 years old.
The victims were being treated for cranial and chest traumas, while several had suffered injuries to their limbs.
Investigators said that they were trying to understand if the emergency exits were working after some witnesses claimed that the exits were blocked.
In a statement to reporters, the Ancona Chief Prosecutor Monica Garulli said that about 1,400 tickets were sold for the concert even though the disco has the capacity to hold only about 870 people.
Meanwhile, Premier Giuseppe Conte, who visited the scene of the tragedy later on Saturday, told reporters that the disco had three rooms but inexplicably only used one of them for the concert.
The room being used had a capacity of 469 people, he said.
Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini also noted that it is "probably true that there were … more people inside than was permissible."
Salvini added that there possibly was a "stink" of something that could have been ammonia or another substance and said that investigators were now looking into similar accounts from survivors.
He also vowed that those responsible for the "six broken lives - whoever out of nastiness, stupidity or greed transformed an evening of partying into tragedy" would be found.
Later in the day, President Sergio Mattarella, Italy's head of state demanded "full light be shone on what happened, ascertaining any responsibility and negligence."
He said in a statement, "Citizens have the right to safety wherever they are, in workplaces as well as places of entertainment. Safety must be assured with special commitment in places where crowds gather, through rigorous inspection and checks. One cannot die this way."
Offering a silent prayer at the Vatican, Pope Francis told about 30,000 pilgrims and tourists in St. Peter's Square that "he was praying for the young people and the mamma as well as for the many injured at the concert."
The Italian rapper Sfera Ebbasta, who is known as 'the king of the trap' for his style of Hip Hop took to Instagram to express that he was "deeply pained" by the tragedy.
He wrote, "I'm deeply saddened by what happened. I don't want to pass judgement on who is responsible, but I would just like to ask everyone to stop and think how dangerous and stupid it can be to use pepper spray in a nightclub."
He also thanked rescuers and offered his "affection and support" to the families of the dead and the injured.
The rapper also added that he was cancelling some upcoming promotional appearances out of respect to the victims.
The incident took place on a national holiday in the country as Italy began celebrations of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.