MANCHESTER, England — At least 22 people are dead and about 59 injured in a possible terrorist incident Monday night at Manchester Arena, where pop singer Ariana Grande was performing, Greater Manchester Police said.
As concertgoers — many of them adolescent fans of the singer — were beginning to leave the arena following Grande’s closing set, an explosion rocked the area. Confusion followed as people fled in search of safety, and the sound of wailing sirens soon cut through the smoky air outside the arena.
Manchester Police Chief Constable Ian Hopkins made a public statement early Tuesday local time, saying “We are currently treating this as a terrorist incident” and said the wounded are being treated at six hospitals across the Manchester area.
The incident happened shortly after Grande had left the stage, about 10:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m. ET) according to eyewitnesses. Calvin Welsford, an 18-year-old concertgoer, said that he heard a “loud bang” a couple of minutes after Grande’s set had finished.
“Ariana was off the stage, she’d finished her set,” he told CNN. “I looked around because I heard this big bang, people screaming and crying and flooded towards the stage.”
Investigators are looking into the possibility of a suicide bombing outside of the arena, according to a Western law enforcement official and a US law enforcement official. A male at the scene in Manchester has been identified as the probable bomber, and a US official said suicide bombing is now considered to be the “likely” reason for the blast.
The city’s Manchester Royal Infirmary (MRI) Hospital was blocked off to all but essential staff due to what the facility called a major incident.
After the initial incident, police carried out a precautionary controlled explosion nearby but the item turned out to be discarded clothing, not a “suspicious item,” Greater Manchester Police said.
Earlier police had warned people to stay away from Manchester Arena after reports of two loud explosions. The crowd was made up of mainly younger people who had come to see Grande in her first of three scheduled concerts in the UK, on her European and Latin American tour.
Hotels opened their doors to people who could not get home due to an area lockdown. A nearby Holiday Inn hotel became a focal point for parents searching for their children who had been at the concert.
Taxis and local people offered free rides to those affected.
Ivo Delgado, a witness, told CNN he heard one explosion after the concert ended. He said there was smoke in a main corridor outside the arena seating and stage area as he and others were heading out of the building.
“It was a really big explosion. Everybody started screaming and running,” he said.
Delgado said: “There were people on the floor … There was a lot of confusion.”
Simran Rayarel, 16, was in the VIP area when she heard the blast. “I heard the bang (and) everyone froze. Then madness broke out,” she said.
“I saw everyone running, I fell onto the seats on the floor my friend lifted me up.”
Social media posts from the scene showed panicked concertgoers running down the arena’s stairs in an attempt to get away.
Video from near the scene showed a caravan of ambulances heading to the arena.
Universal Music Group, parent company for Grande’s record label, Republic Records, posted a statement on Facebook.
“We are deeply saddened to learn of tonight’s devastating event in Manchester. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by this tragedy,” the post says.
Grande’s publicist, Joseph Carozza, confirmed to the Los Angeles Times that the performer was safe.
“Ariana is OK. We are further investigating what happened,” he said.
British Prime Minister Theresa May issued a statement, confirming that police are treating the incident as a terror attack. She will chair a meeting of the Government’s emergency Cobra committee on Tuesday morning.
“We are working to establish the full details of what is being treated by the police as an appalling terrorist attack. All our thoughts are with the victims and the families of those who have been affected.”
The leader of Britain’s Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, offered support on Twitter. “Terrible incident in Manchester. My thoughts are with all those affected and our brilliant emergency services.”
Musicians such as Ed Sheeran, Nicki Minaj and Katy Perry all offered supportive tweets.