A bandaged man comforts a woman following an incident at the Apollo Theatre, in London's Shaftesbury Avenue, Thursday evening, Dec. 19, 2013, during a performance , with police saying there were "a number" of casualties. It wasn't immediately clear if the roof, ceiling or balcony had collapsed. The London Fire Brigade said the theatre was almost full, with around 700 people watching the performance. A spokesman added: "It's thought between 20 and 40 people were injured." ( Joel Ryan, Invision/Associated Press
The ceiling of a London theatre 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 theatre-goers had to be rescued, authorities said.
The collapse at the Apollo Theatre took place at 8:15 p.m. local time during a performance of The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time at the height of the Christmas holiday season. The ceiling came down, bringing parts of the theatre's balconies with it, police said.
Over 700 people were in the theatre at the time, according to the London Fire Department.
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."
Libby Grundy, 65, said she heard a bang — and then saw a "huge cloud of dust."
"I thought it was a special effect," she said. "And then people realized it must be some sort of emergency and people started getting up. People didn't panic. (But) people were quite shaky when they got out."
Dust-covered theatrergoers, many with bandaged heads, were treated by dozens of emergency workers in the street outside the Apollo and at a nearby theatre.
London's Ambulance Service said it treated 88 patients — 81 with minor injuries and seven with "more serious" injuries who were taken to nearby hospitals. None of the injuries were believed to be life-threatening, officials said.
A London city bus was commandeered to take some of the wounded to the hospital.
The fire department reported that all those who had been trapped in the Apollo have been rescued.
Shaftesbury Avenue, normally one of London's busiest streets and teeming with pedestrians, was completely shut down by emergency workers.
The Apollo Theatre, named for the Greek and Roman god Apollo, god of music and the arts, was built in 1901 and has 775 seats.
The show, which is aimed at young people as well as adults, is about a boy with Asperger's who sets out to solve a crime.
Prime Minister David Cameron said via Twitter that 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.
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