By Andy Soltis and Post Wires
December 19, 2013 | 4:23pm
The ceiling of a packed London theater collapsed during a performance Thursday night, showering masonry and debris on terrified audience members and sending the more than 700 in attendance racing to escape.
Emergency workers said 81 “walking wounded” audience members were treated at the chaotic Shaftesbury Avenue scene in the heart of the theater district. Seven others were seriously injured and rushed to hospitals in a red double-decker bus that was commandeered by rescue workers.
An injured theatergoer is taken away by emergency workers in London after a collapse at the famed Apollo Theatre.Photo: Reuters
There was no official explanation as to why the plaster ceiling and wooden supports came crashing down, taking part of a balcony with it, during the first act of a performance of “The Curious Incident Of The Dog in the Night-time” at the Apollo Theatre. But the collapse came about an hour after London was hit by a strong thunderstorm.
Audience members said first 40 minutes of the play had passed when they heard a strong “creaking” sound from above. But at first they thought they were witnessing a special effect.
“We thought it was part of the show,” said Amy Lecoz, who was with her two teenagers. “We thought it was part of the show.”
But quickly she realized: “The entire dome fell down on the audience just in front of us.”
“People were screaming,” she said. “I grabbed my kids and ran.”
“I heard somebody on stage say ‘Oh bloody hell’ because they must have seen it,” said another member of the audience, Libby Grundy. Others said actors on stage shouted “Watch out!” when they saw what was happening.
Another theatergoer, Martin Bostock, called the scene “complete chaos.” He said he, too, believed the creaking was part of the show — “then I got hit on the head.”
Several people were temporarily trapped in the rubble but were quickly freed, authorities said.
Passersby said they saw rescue workers escorting audience members covered in blood, dust and debris — some in tears — out of the ornate building.
Audience member Simon Usborne told Sky News said many of the wounded suffered head injuries. “There are a lot of people with blood on their faces,” he said.
“We got out with cuts and bruises,” Bostock said. “I think most people did.”
The accident came during the traditionally busy Christmas period in the West End, when the area is packed with theatergoers.
Witnesses said Shaftesbury Avenue was brought to a standstill. They said the foyer of the nearby Queen’s Theatre, where a performance of “Les Miserables” was going on, was turned into a makeshift hospital.
Matt Tait, an actor who was performing in the play when the collapse occurred, said later via Twitter: “Cast, crew and stage management all safe. Thoughts are with all the audience. Horrific and unbelievable.”
Prime Minister David Cameron also tweeted, saying 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.