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 about 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.”
“Complete chaos” erupted as the debris rained down, said Martin Bostock, who came with his family to see the show, which is based on the best-selling novel by Mark Haddon.
“At first, we thought it was part of the show,” he told Sky News. “Then I got hit on the head.”
Scott Daniels, an American tourist who lives in the Dallas area, was in the audience, too. He said he started hearing noises and screaming, before “huge hunks of plaster” started raining down.
“I thought, well, maybe this is part of the play,” he told The Associated Press. “A lot of action and dialogue was happening at the same time on stage, but then when the lights went out and everything filled with dust — everybody was coughing and choking.”
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 is 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.
Shaftesbury Avenue, normally one of London’s busiest streets and teeming with pedestrians, was completely shut down by emergency workers.