More than 80 hurt as ceiling in London's Apollo theatre collapses

Audience of over 700 people showered with masonry and debris

Emergency services attending the scene at the Apollo Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue, central London, as a rescue operation is under way after part of a balcony is thought to have collapsed during a performance Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Emergency services attending the scene at the Apollo Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue, central London, as a rescue operation is under way after part of a balcony is thought to have collapsed during a performance Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

 

Emergency services said more than 80 people had been injured in a packed London theatre last night when part of the ceiling collapsed during a performance, bringing the city’s West End theatre district to a standstill.

The audience was showered with masonry and debris following the incident at the Apollo Theatre, where about 720 people including many families were watching the hugely popular play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

“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.

Emergency services said there were 81 “walking wounded”, many with head injuries, with seven more taken to hospital with more serious injuries. Police said they were not aware of any fatalities.


Specialist teams
“Specialist urban search- and-rescue crews were also called to the scene to make sure no one was trapped. Fortunately all those who were trapped have been rescued and treated for injuries or taken to hospital,” Mr Harding said.

Witnesses said the ceiling in the four-storey auditorium had simply collapsed during the performance, sending those inside into a panic when they realised it was not part of the play.

“We saw the ceiling give way and it just dropped down on to the stalls. There was dust everywhere and people were screaming,” said Steve George (29), who was sitting in seats at the top of the theatres.

“I have no idea how many people would have been injured,” added Mr George, a cinema manager who had taken his wife Hannah to the show for a birthday treat.

“It became like a black mist with people walking over me, said Michelle Chew, another member of the audience.

Emergency vehicles blocked off Shaftesbury Avenue in the heart of London’s theatreland, packed with revellers on one of the busiest nights of the year in the run-up to Christmas.


Shrouded in dust
“People were running in here with dust all over themselves,” said Thomas Asihen, manager of the McDonald’s restaurant located on the same block. He said people were being brought out by paramedics shrouded in plastic blankets, with some carried out on stretchers.

Those injured inside the Apollo, which first opened its doors in February 1901, were taken to the nearby Gielgud Theatre while a bus was being used to transport those needing hospital treatment.

Police said the cause of the collapse was unclear, but there was no suggestion that it was the result of any deliberate act or attack.

“In my time as a fire officer I’ve never seen an incident like this. I imagine lots of people were out enjoying the show in the run-up to Christmas,” Mr Harding said.

Theatregoer Andrew Howard-Smith (68) said: “I saw the edge of the balcony come down, that’s what I saw. We were on the balcony below. “In the production you had to hold on to the rail and lean over to see what was going on, and we were doing the same.

“Everybody must have got hold of the brass rail and just pushed it over, and then the edge came off. That was the only bit that came off, just the edge. It wasn’t the whole of the balcony, just the front two feet.”

School worker Hannah George (29) said: “It was about 40 minutes into the show, and the ceiling collapsed. “We were in the balcony, about five rows from the front, and we saw a few people in the front of the balcony row get up and start moving towards the right. Very quickly, the second and third rows started moving all together. We wondered if this part of the show.


Missed the balcony
“Then I heard someone scream and you heard a shriek – then a chunk of the ceiling collapsed. “It actually missed the balcony and must have hit people down below in the stalls – you couldn’t see anything down there.

“Very quickly ushers held the doors open. It wasn’t every man for himself, it was very ordered. There were people in front going, ‘You okay?’ and trying to get people out.

“There were people coming out who were more seriously injured. There were loads of people coming out shaking, and a fellow next to me had quite a badly bleeding arm and a ripped shirt.”

She described people seriously injured, including a man with blood all down his arm and a woman lying on the pavement outside “absolutely covered in glass”. – (Reuters/AP)