Kiwi at Apollo: 'It was just bedlam'

AIMEE GULLIVER
Last updated 14:11 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
Reuters Zoom
Emergency services inspect at the roof.

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Hundreds of people disappeared into dust when the roof of London's Apollo Theatre collapsed in front of a New Zealander at the show with her friends.

Claire Sussmilch, 26, was at the theatre with Amy Woollams and Scott Mackenzie, all from Auckland, in the ''cheap seats way up the back'' when they heard a lot of creaking and people moving around.

''We first thought it was part of the show, and then all of a sudden someone yelled ''Get out'' and everyone just started really moving really quickly, and the whole front two or three hundred people in front of us just collapsed into a pile of dust.''

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.

Eighty-eight people were injured, 81 of whom were "walking wounded", police said.

At least seven were seriously injured but police were not aware of any fatalities "at this early stage".

Sussmilch thought the front balcony had collapsed, but later found out it was the dome roof of the theatre that was built in 1901.

''But it was basically just the whole piece of the building in front of us - I don't know if it was in slow motion because we weren't registering it fast enough, but it just collapsed in front of us.

''Then all the lights went off, and it was just a cloud of dust.''

The trio managed to leave the theatre and get down to the street safely, where the chaos continued. ''We were really lucky because we were right up the back so we were really close to a door.

''So we just got up, went out this door, and hoped it was going to lead us to a fire exit and just went down lots of flights of stairs and ended up on the street.

''It was just bedlam out there. Everyone was just in so much shock, people were crying, and everyone was on their phones calling ambulances and calling their families."

All she wanted to do was get away from the Apollo, Sussmilch said.

''Because it's such an old building we didn't know what else was going to happen, so we went around the corner to a coffee shop to see what was coming up on the news so we could see if anyone had been really badly hurt.

''We really just saw the whole thing happen and then just got out of there. ''I'm really surprised that no one has died, and I really hope it's that way tomorrow."

A family who had been to the show together sought refuge at the same coffee shop as Sussmilch and her friends.

''They were just covered in dust and really shaken, and the poor kids were so upset.

''It was really hard to calm down after seeing all that happen in front of you.''

Sussmilch said she often thought to herself that buildings that ''old and precarious'' could just fall down.

''I actually thought that going in [to the Apollo] tonight, and then it happened right in front of us.

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''It was crazy. It was the scariest thing I've ever seen.''

- Stuff

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