Partial collapse at London theater leaves scores injured, shaken

Part of the Apollo Theatre in London's West End creaks before portions of the ceiling falls on the crowd

An injured woman cries inside an ambulance following a ceiling collapse at a theatre in Central London on Dec. 19, 2013.
Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

A theater in central London partially collapsed Thursday night, injuring scores of people attending a packed performance at the height of the Christmas season.

Crumbling masonry showered a 700-strong audience, witnesses said, with heaps of plaster and wood falling from above. Eighty-eight people were injured, seven seriously, and several trapped theatergoers had to be rescued.

It wasn't immediately clear if the roof, ceiling or balcony collapsed at the Apollo Theatre during a performance of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime."

Police said officers were called about 8:15 p.m. local time (3:15 p.m. EST) after reports of the collapse on Shaftesbury Avenue in central London. London's fire department said eight engines were on the scene in the Soho neighborhood.

Witnesses told British media that the theater in the West End was packed during the holiday season to see the show, which is based on the best-selling novel by Mark Haddon.

"We thought it was part of the show, until something hit me on the head very hard," one man told the BBC, speaking from the foyer of the theater while he was being evaluated by emergency workers. "I thought we were all going to be in really, really serious trouble."

“Within an instant, the entire roof caved in," another witness told the BBC.

Eyewitnesses told the British news agency the Press Association that they saw people being escorted from the building, covered in dust and rubble. Many of those escorted out were bleeding.

The city's ambulance service said it had sent "a number" of crews to the theater.

Martin Bostock was in the audience with his family, and told Sky News that "complete chaos" erupted in the theater.

The Apollo Theatre, named for the Greek and Roman god of music and the arts, was built in 1901 and has 775 seats.

London was hit by a freak thunderstorm about 7 p.m. that dumped heavy rain on the city, but it wasn't immediately clear if that was related to the collapse.

On its website, the theater warned that its balcony was one of the steepest in London "so avoid if you have trouble with heights."

The balcony started creaking about midway through the performance before a section of the theater collapsed, the Press Association reported.

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