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Over 75 injured in partial London theater collapse

LONDON (AP) - Hunks of plaster and dust rained down on a packed audience when the ceiling of a London theater partially collapsed Thursday night. More than 75 people were injured - seven seriously, authorities said.

The collapse at the Apollo Theatre took place around 8:15 p.m. during a performance of "The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time" at the height of the Christmas holiday season. Plaster and masonry from a section of the ceiling tumbled down, bringing parts of the theater's balconies down with it onto the audience, police said.

More than 700 people were in the theater at the time, according to the London Fire Brigade.

Officials said most of the injured were "walking wounded" with upper-body injuries, and that all are conscious and breathing.

Police and fire officials said it was too soon to say what had caused the partial collapse of the ceiling, but that a full investigation is being carried out.

Dee Stephenson said she was seated near the stage and heard the main actor shout "watch out!"

"Then you could feel the debris literally coming down on you and then I got hit on the back by a large piece," she told The Associated Press. "It was a complete dust curtain. You couldn't see."

Scott Daniels, an American tourist who lives in the Dallas area, said he'd managed to buy a last-minute ticket to the acclaimed production just before show time.

"I was lucky to get one seat that they had left over," he told The Associated Press. About 40 or 45 minutes into the show, he said, he started hearing noises - and screaming.

"I thought, maybe this is part of the play," he said. "All of a sudden, plaster starts raining down, huge hunks of plaster ... The lights went out and everything filled with dust - everybody was coughing and choking."

He said he made it out with "a couple scrapes," though he saw others with more serious lacerations.

Dust-covered theatergoers, many with bandaged heads, were treated by dozens of emergency workers in the street outside the Apollo and at a nearby theater.

City buses were commandeered to usher some of the wounded to hospitals.

Injuries ranged from head wounds to cuts and scrapes to breathing problems.

Initially, London Ambulance Service said more than 80 people had been injured. But noting that the initial situation was confusing, it later adjusted that number to say it had treated 76 patients, 58 of whom were taken to hospitals.

Of those, 51 had suffered minor injuries and seven had suffered "more serious injuries." There were no fatalities and none of the injuries are believed to be life-threatening, officials added.

The fire department said no one was trapped in the theater, explaining that rescuers had helped evacuate some theatergoers who had been trapped "by the nature of their injuries" where they had stood when the ornate plastering came down.

Chief Superintendent Paul Rickett said that "so far, we know that a number of items of masonry have fallen down from the ceiling.

"There is no suggestion at this stage that this was as a result of a criminal act, however, at this stage we are keeping an open mind," he added.

Shaftesbury Avenue, normally one of London's busiest streets and teeming with pedestrians, was completely shut down by emergency workers.

The Apollo Theatre, named for the Greek and Roman god of music and the arts, was built in 1901 and has 775 seats.

The show, which is aimed at young people as well as adults, is about a boy with Asperger's who sets out to solve a crime.

Prime Minister David Cameron said via Twitter that he was being updated regularly on the crisis. He praised the city's emergency services - who were on the scene within three minutes - for their "fast work" in helping the injured.

London Mayor Boris Johnson also thanked emergency services for their "incredible response in very difficult conditions."

Nimax Theatres, which owns the Apollo, described the incident as "shocking and upsetting" and said an investigation into what caused the ceiling collapse is under way.

Roof Collapse Hits London Theatre Trade

Join the discussion

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chckpope December 20 2013 at 1:33 PM

The thing was built in 1901, come on, these buildings need a face lift every now and then. Building codes have changed and many of these so called land mark-historical buildings can only take so much. Especially theaters where we all know sound takes a toll on structures. Public safety should be foremost even if the building LOOKS fine they should be testing them for safety before allowing them to be used.

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Brian December 20 2013 at 10:24 AM

Yes, it's shocking that mortar and plaster fell from the roof of a building constructed in 1900.

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vrf19977 December 20 2013 at 10:26 AM

I performed in a theater a few years ago that experienced the exact same thing; an old, out of date ceiling collapsed right onto the audience seats below. Thankfully, the show had ended just moments before, and the seats were empty, so nobody got hurt, but it was still a terrifying thought. These old theaters are beautiful and historic, but too often are not well-maintained structurally. All it takes is a heavy rain or snowfall, or just years of neglect, and it's an accident waiting to happen. I'd bet anything that the Apollo accident was caused by simple old age and disrepair.

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arenadood December 20 2013 at 10:44 AM

This just shows that older building used at public venues need to be inspected more often for structural damage. We do that here in the US and am wondering how strict the inspections are over there.

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2 replies
Roberta Sheomake arenadood December 20 2013 at 12:07 PM

Glad quite a few of the older theatres of the golden years of vaudeville and cinema are being renovated. Happened to the classic and ornate Senator Theatre in Baltimore.... now a premier theater again! May all such old buildings be "checked up on." Portland cement has a lifetime-limit.... and plaster....

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Gwen arenadood December 20 2013 at 12:26 PM

Bravo, arenaddood! A great answer to these problems!!

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willburwill December 20 2013 at 10:48 AM

This is a direct result of not maintaining the venue. Back in the 70's I attended a rock concert at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby in Pa. and there was a spotlight on the side on a platform about 40 feet up built into the wall and half way through the concert the front part on the platform detached from the wall. Lucky that the light operator was able to hang onto the light so not to fall and hit the concert goers. Pretty scary. No one was hurt but did delay the concert but the show went on.

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1 reply
Gwen willburwill December 20 2013 at 12:25 PM

Sounds like a terrible circumstance to go through!

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Kurt December 20 2013 at 11:15 AM


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mysolama December 20 2013 at 7:24 AM

I have been to the Apollo ,it is gorgeous ,the ceiling was amazing ,such a shame ,hope it can be restored .
the nightly bombings during the ww11 and later the IRA bombings taught the British how to cope with major catastrophes ,And how to commandeer anything with wheels to get the injured to safety

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birds2nv December 20 2013 at 11:25 AM

I worked for 25 years as a motion picture projectionist and I can tell you plenty of stories of poor building maintenance. A new roof costs a lot of money and keeps the rain out, but theater owners are notorious misers and will pocket the money they should be spending on repairs. Many years ago while working a film festival in an old theater I had ceiling plaster fall on me in the projection room while threading up a projector with film. It has that metal lath in it and can be quite heavy and can really injure you. Luckily in my incident it only fell from 9 feet. Hate to think how those poor people hurt when the plaster probably fell from 30-40 feet. Cities are not proactive inspecting the old venues.

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Gwen December 20 2013 at 12:33 PM

What a tribute to ambulance and other officers for their speedy recovering individuals! YOU may have even saved a life or two. Hats off!!

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johnhenrywatson December 20 2013 at 6:27 AM

The Bus is typically British. None of this sitting around and waiting for ambulances. They're walking wounded - stop a bus, tell the passengers to get off and wait for the next one, get the wounded on it and drive to the nearest hospital. They really are good in a crisis. Probably handed out "keep calm and carry on" towels for the blood.

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1 reply
kenest66 johnhenrywatson December 20 2013 at 7:33 AM

love your post

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