Parts of theater's ceiling fall in London, injuring scores


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LONDON -- 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 happened 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 were conscious and breathing.

Police and fire officials said it was too soon to say what had caused the partial collapse of the ceiling.

Dee Stephenson said she was just three or four seats from the stage when an actor shouted "watch out!"

"Then what we felt was debris falling on us, a loud bang, and then all of a sudden there was a coat of dust," she said.

Scott Daniels, an American tourist who lives in the Dallas area, said he had managed to buy a ticket to the acclaimed production just before show time. "I was lucky to get one seat that they had left over," he said. 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 were 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" and where they were standing when the ornate plastering came down.

Chief Superintendent Paul Rickett said: "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."

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


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