By Cassandra Vinograd
and Jill Lawless
LONDON: The ceiling of a London theater partially collapsed Thursday night, showering a packed audience with heaps of plaster, wood and dust.
More than 80 people were injured — at least seven seriously — and several trapped theatergoers had to be rescued, authorities said.
The collapse at the Apollo Theatre took place at 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 from a section of the ceiling tumbled down, bringing parts of the theater’s balconies with it, police said.
More than 700 people were in the theater at the time, the London Fire Department said.
Brian Reardon, a fire brigade commander on the scene, said he did not believe a lightning strike caused the ceiling to collapse but added that the cause would not be known until a full investigation was carried out.
London was hit by an extremely heavy thunderstorm about 7 p.m., an hour before the collapse.
“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 said. “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.
None of the injuries was believed to be life-threatening, officials said.