A theater ceiling collapsed in the SoHo district of London on Thursday, injuring 76 patrons, seven critically. A slight "crackling" was the only immediate warning sign, before the century-old ceiling collapsed, bringing sections of the balcony with it.
"The collapse occurred at the Apollo Theater about 10:15 local time (3:15 p.m. ET) [on December 19] during a performance of 'The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Nighttime'," reports USA Today. A "family favorite," this play is based off the best-selling novel by Mark Haddon.
Live from spokesman on scene: all casualties who were trapped have been freed #soho— London Fire Brigade (@LondonFire) December 19, 2013
"The theater on Shaftesbury Avenue in central London was packed for a performance... the fire brigade said they believed around 700 people were inside the theater during the performance at the height of the Christmas season," details NBC News. A spokesperson from the Apollo likewise confirms that 720 of the 775 seats were occupied at the time of the collapse, 40 minutes into the play.
Guest Martin Bowstock spoke to BBC just after emerging from the chaotic venue with his family. "All of the actors reacted. We saw all the actors looking up above us and pointing, looking horrified and then things started falling and smoke, and I thought it was part of the show until something hit me on the head very hard," he said.
Amy Lecoz, another parent in attendance with her children recalled that "the entire dome roof fell down on the audience just in front of us. We were protected by the balcony above and we ran. People started screaming."
Eight fire engines and more than 50 firefighters, 25 ambulances, as well as Met police actively secured the scene. CNN reports that "the London Fire Bridgade's Kingsland Station Manager Nick Harding said, 'what fell was a 10-meter-by-10-meter square section of the ceiling, and that it dragged down balconies with it.'" Harding also noted that all of those who were trapped had been freed.
"Ticket prices at the four-level theater, which opened its doors in 1901, included a £1 ($1.64) 'theatre restoration levy,' the theater's website said. It was not immediately clear whether the ceiling was part of the restoration of the building, which owned and operated by Nimax Theatres." An investigation is now underway.
There are no reported fatalities.