Roof falls on London Apollo Theatre audience

Last updated 12:26 20/12/2013
Fairfax

Emergency services say at least 81 people were injured in a packed London theatre when part of the ceiling collapsed during a performance.

Apollo Theatre collapse in London

Apollo Theatre roof collapse
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Emergency services inspect at the roof.
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WALKING WOUNDED: People injured in the collapse are treated in an ambulance.

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People inside London's Apollo Theatre thought a creaking sound was part of a scene before the roof collapsed, trapping many.

A rescue operation began within minutes at the West End theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue. Eighty-eight people were injured, 81 of whom were "walking wounded", police said. At least seven were seriously injured but police weren't aware of any fatalities "at this early stage".

All those who were trapped had since been rescued, emergency services said.

Police were first called at 8.15pm (9.15am NZT).

The incident happened during a performance of The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time. The London fire department said it thought about 700 people were in the theatre at the time.

London was hit by a freak thunderstorm about 7pm that dumped heavy rain on the city, but it wasn't immediately clear if that was related to the collapse.

"A section of the theatre's ceiling collapsed onto the audience who were watching the show. The ceiling took parts of the balconies down with it," said Nick Harding from London Fire Brigade.

''Complete chaos'' erupted as the debris rained down, said Martin Bostock, who came with his family to see the show. 

''At first we thought it was part of the show,'' he told Sky News. ''Then I got hit on the head.'' 

Witnesses said audience members were screaming ''get out, get out" as they fled the theatre and were shaking with fear when they reached the street outside.

''Within an instant, the entire roof caved in,'' another man said.

"The entire dome roof fell down on the audience just in front of us," Amy Lecoz told the BBC.

"We were protected by the balcony above and we ran. People started screaming.

"We thought it was water ... we thought it was a part of the show. I grabbed my kids and just ran," she told the BBC.

A passing public double-decker bus was commandeered to transport some of the injured to a hospital.

The Guardian reported that halfway through the first half of the performance part of the balcony started creaking before a section of the theatre collapsed.

A 29-year-old called Ben told the Guardian he thought the creaking was part of the scene. "It was a seaside scene, but then there was a lot of crashing noise and part of the roof caved in. There was dust everywhere, everybody's covered in dust."

Another said: "We were in the stalls. It's a balcony that's come off. Some of the structure's come down."

One witness told the Daily Mail it was like an "avalanche".

Jess Bowie was in the theatre and tweeted the experience was "absolutely petrifying ... people outside are covered in dust and some in blood. Utterly horrible".

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The Apollo Theatre, named for the Greek and Roman god Apollo, 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 syndrome 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.

On its website, the theatre warned that its balcony was one of the steepest in London "so avoid if you have trouble with heights".

- Stuff

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