ROME — At least six people were killed and about 40 others were injured, more than a dozen of them seriously, in a stampede early Saturday at a nightclub in central Italy where a popular rapper was scheduled to perform, officials said.
Panic broke out after midnight at the Lanterna Azzurra club in Corinaldo, a town near the city of Senigallia on the Adriatic coast. One unidentified witness interviewed by RAI News, the national news channel, said that pepper spray had been fired inside the club, setting off panic. But investigators did not confirm that.
Reports said that five of the people killed were minors, and that another was the mother of one of the young fans who had gone to the club to hear a concert by Sfera Ebbasta, an Italian rapper.
Luca Cari, a spokesman for the national fire department who was at the scene, said by phone that the situation had been “dramatic” and that it was still unclear how the events unfolded.
Italian news media showed images of dozens of ambulances outside the club and rescue workers tending to survivors.
Officials said 14 people were hospitalized in serious condition. Roberto Papa, a medical official in Ancona, said during a news conference on Saturday morning that seven were taken to Ancona’s main hospital in critical condition, all in their teens or early 20s. Several others were still under observation.
Col. Cristian Carrozza of the Carabinieri, one of the chief investigators, said by phone that “at least 100 witnesses had been interrogated” so far, and that various theories about what had caused the panic were being examined. One was that the use of Mace, or pepper spray, provoked the stampede, he said.
He also confirmed that some 1,400 tickets had been sold for the concert, though the club could legally hold only 870 people.
“One hypothesis was that overcrowding was a contributing cause,” he said.
Oreste Capocasa, the police chief of the nearby city of Ancona, told RAI that many people were hurt when metal railings on a ramp outside one of the emergency exits collapsed.
People tumbled off the ramp, and others fell on top of them, he said. Early reports from Italian news media had indicated that one or more of the emergency exits had been blocked, but Mr. Capocasa said that was not the case.
Sfera Ebbasta, the rapper, wrote on his Twitter account that he was “deeply grieved” by what had happened at the concert.CreditAndrew Medichini/Associated Press
The news agency ANSA said the police were interviewing six bouncers who worked at the club during the evening.
Sfera Ebbasta, the rapper, wrote on his Twitter account that he was “deeply grieved” by what had happened at the concert. “I don’t want to judge those who are responsible, but I would like EVERYBODY to stop and think how stupid it is to use pepper spray in a discothèque,” he wrote, adding that he had canceled his coming performances.
The deputy prime minister, Luigi Di Maio, published the names of the victims on his Facebook page. The minors were between the ages of 14 and 16.
“It’s an absurd way to die,” Mr. Di Maio wrote, pledging that the government would do everything in its power to determine “if all the security measures had been respected.”
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said that investigators were looking into whether some kind of toxic material had been used inside the club, provoking the stampede. “They’re talking about ammonia, pepper spray, toxic substances, but don’t let me get into things I can’t divulge,” he said.
Noting that Saturday is the Catholic feast of the Immaculate Conception, a national holiday in Italy, he added, “It will be a holiday of tears that we wouldn’t have wanted to shed.”
Pope Francis prayed for the victims during his Angelus prayer on Saturday.
On Saturday afternoon, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Mr. Salvini made separate visits to Ancona, the capital of the Marches, where they met with investigators. Speaking later with reporters, Mr. Conte said that the estimated 1,400 mostly young fans had been crammed into a single hall, one of three in the club.
He called on the managers of nightclubs and discos to respect existing security measures. “Think that your own children could have been there,” he said.
Mr. Salvini, who is also deputy prime minister, said that those responsible would have the lives of “six persons who Monday won’t enter into their classrooms on their conscience.”
He declined to confirm the hypothesis — relayed throughout the day by Italian news outlets — that pepper spray had provoked the panic.
“What’s important is that people know that in Italy, those who do wrong will pay,” he said.