Apollo Theatre ceiling collapses in London

Posted at 4:07 PM, Dec 19, 2013
and last updated 2013-12-19 16:44:11-05

LONDON (CNN) — A rescue operation was under way Thursday after part of the ceiling in the Apollo Theatre in central London collapsed during a performance, seriously injuring 20 to 40 people, five of them seriously, officials said.

Metropolitan Police said in a tweet that those who were seriously hurt had been taken to hospitals in central London, and that there was no immediate indication of fatalities.

Authorities responded to the report at about 8:15 p.m., police said in a tweet.

Within an hour, a spokesman for the fire department said all of the people who had been hurt — estimated at 20 to 40 — had been freed from the building, which was at or near its 775-seat capacity, as is customary during the Christmas season.

The Apollo is located next to Picadilly Circus in the Soho district, which is usually packed with tourists, shoppers and diners at theater time.

Paramedics arrived carrying stretchers as police cordoned off the area.

A few minutes later, some of the paramedics emerged from the theater, their stretcher full; others helped someone limp out of the building.

A 29-year-old theatergoer named Hannah told CNN that she witnessed the event, which occurred about 40 minutes into the show, from Row E, near the front.

She said it started slowly, then accelerated as it dropped plaster and wood on the crowd. She said she heard someone say that a woman had broken her leg and she saw people with cuts and scrapes. But, she added, people made their way out of the building in an orderly manner.

Many were taken initially to the Lyric Theatre, located next door.

As she spoke, dozens and dozens of police, fire and ambulance vehicles filled the street in front of the theater.

The theater’s website said “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” had been playing,” which it described as “a thrilling new stage play from the National Theatre.”

Ticket prices at the theater, which opened its doors in 1901 and whose 775 seats are arrayed on four levels, included a 1 pound “theatre restoration levy,” the website said.

It is owned and operated by Nimax Theatres.

CNN’s Nic Robertson in London reported the story, Tom Watkins in Atlanta reported and wrote, Erin McLaughlin contributed from London