London theater partially collapses; dozens injured

Associated Press
Firefighters inspect the roof of the Apollo Theatre after its ceiling partially collapsed during a performance in London, Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013. The ceiling of a London theatre partially collapsed Thursday night, showering a packed audience of about 700 with heaps of plaster, wood and dust, authorities and witnesses said. More than 80 people were injured, including at least seven seriously, and several trapped theater-goers had to be rescued. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)
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Firefighters inspect the roof of the Apollo Theatre after its ceiling partially collapsed during a performance in London, Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013. The ceiling of a London theatre partially collapsed Thursday night, showering a packed audience of about 700 with heaps of plaster, wood and dust, authorities and witnesses said. More than 80 people were injured, including at least seven seriously, and several trapped theater-goers had to be rescued. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)

LONDON (AP) — A central London theater packed with about 700 people partially collapsed Thursday night during a performance at the height of the Christmas season, injuring dozens of people, seven seriously, authorities said.

Police said they weren't aware of any fatalities "at this early stage," and that five seriously injured people had been taken to hospitals following the incident at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftsbury Avenue at 8:15 p.m. (2015 GMT; 3:15 p.m. EST). More than 40 "walking wounded" are being treated at a nearby theater, police added.

Martin Bostock was in the audience with his family, and said "complete chaos" erupted in the theater.

"At first we thought it was part of the show," he told Sky News. "Then I got hit on the head."

London was hit by a freak thunderstorm about 7 p.m. (1900 GMT; 2 p.m. EST) that dumped heavy rain on the city, but it wasn't immediately clear if that was related to the collapse.

The fire department said all casualties who were trapped in the Apollo Theatre had been freed. It wasn't immediately clear if the roof, ceiling or balcony collapsed at the theater during a performance of "The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Nighttime." Special search and rescue teams remain on the scene, along with ambulances and police.

Witnesses told British media that the theater in London's famous 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.

London's fire department said eight engines are on the scene in the SoHo neighborhood, and the city's ambulance service said it had sent "a number" of crews to the theater.

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.

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

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