A rescue operation is under way after part of a balcony in the Apollo theatre in London's West End is thought to have collapsed during a performance, trapping people inside, according to eyewitnesses. Police confirmed they were called to the theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue shortly after 8.15pm.
A spokesman said: "There is a report of a collapse in the building itself." It is believed some people may have been injured in the collapse, which occurred during a performance of The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time.
Eyewitnesses said they saw people being escorted out of the building, covered in dust and debris. Halfway through the first half of the performance, part of the balcony started creaking before a section of the theatre collapsed. Audience members assumed the noise was part of the show.
Lobby filled with head injuries. pic.twitter.com/Q5Y9CDhuAG— Simon Usborne (@susborne) December 19, 2013
Rupert Street and Shaftesbury Avenue were filled with evacuated theatre-goers covered in dust, many of whom were bleeding. People left the building crying, coughing and helping each other away. Many theatre-goers were crying and trying to make contact with family members as some were still trapped inside the building.
One 29-year-old, who would only give his name as Ben, said: "It was about halfway through the first half of the show and there was a lot of creaking. We thought it was part of the scene, it was a seaside scene, but then there was a lot of crashing noise and part of the roof caved in. There was dust everywhere, everybody's covered in dust. We got out fairly quickly, I think everyone was quite panicked."
A 38-year-old said: "We were in the stalls. It's a balcony that's come off. Some of the structure's come down." Police were on the scene within minutes and began cordoning off the theatre. A Metropolitan Police spokesman said there were "multiple casualties".
Was just seeing 'The Curious Incident' in the West End when the roof of the Apollo Theatre caved in. Absolutely petrifying. Don't know if...— Jess Bowie (@jessbowie) December 19, 2013
London Fire Brigade confirmed that eight fire engines had been sent to the scene. Martin Bostock, who was in the audience at the Grade II listed theatre with his family, said he suffered a head injury after he was hit by falling debris. He told Sky News: "I was in the lower stalls with my family in the early stages of the show. It was just terrifying and awful. I think the front part of the balcony fell down. At first we thought it was part of the show. Then I got hit on the head."
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Bostock confirmed he had a blood injury and needed medical treatment. He went on: "It was complete chaos in the theatre. Absolutely terrifying and awful. We got out with cuts and bruises. I think most people did."
Walking wounded were taken from the scene in ambulances as a team of firefighters rushed through the front stage door in Archer Street. Some were taken to the nearby White Horse pub, while others were taken from the scene to be reunited with friends and family members.
A Met spokesman said: "London Fire Brigade and London Ambulance Service are on scene. We have had reports of multiple casualties but no further detail at present."
Simon Usborne, a writer for the Independent newspaper, said there was a "cloud" of dust obscuring the stage after parts of masonry appeared to fall away. He said: "There was panic, there was screaming." He added that there did not appear to be any sign of damage from the outside of the theatre.
Jess Bowie, content editor of The House magazine, tweeted: "Was just seeing 'The Curious Incident' in the West End when the roof of the Apollo Theatre caved in. Absolutely petrifying. Don't know if anyone is trapped in there but people outside are covered in dust and some in blood. Utterly horrible."
Andrew Howard-Smith, 68, said: "I saw the edge of the balcony come down, that's what I saw. We were on the balcony below. In the production you had to hold on to the rail and lean over to see what was going on, and we were doing the same. Everybody must have got hold of the brass rail and just pushed it over, and then the edge came off. That was the only bit that came off, just the edge. It wasn't the whole of the balcony, just the front 2ft."
Libby Grundy, 65, said: "There was a bang, and then a huge cloud of dust. At first I thought it was a special effect. I heard somebody on the stage say 'Oh bloody hell', because they must have seen it. And then people realised it must be some sort of emergency and people started getting up. People didn't panic. People were quite shaky when they got out.
"There wasn't any screaming. People were scared, but they weren't screaming. I feel quite shaky now."
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."
Sorry to hear of events at Apollo Theatre. All of our thoughts with those injured and emergency services.— Ed Miliband (@Ed_Miliband) December 19, 2013
Theatre-goer Khalil Anjarwalla said he, his heavily pregnant wife and her parents managed to escape from the theatre safely after "kilos of concrete plummeted from the ceiling". Business owner Mr Anjarwalla said: "I was in the upper circle with my family when, about 45 minutes in, people started shouting and screaming. We thought it was part of the play. But the ceiling was crumbling. Within an instant the whole roof seemed to come down.
"We saw a lot of people completely covered in dust - I could hardly breathe. We had to get out, calmly. I remember thinking the cloud, the dust - it reminded me of those scenes from 9/11 in the aftermath of the building collapsing."
Mr Anjarwalla, a businessman from Kenya who was visiting his in-laws with his English wife, Aliya, said: "The actors just seemed to run from the stage. They had obviously seen what had happened. Thankfully we are all OK. My wife is seven months pregnant but she is OK. We feel very blessed."
He said some people seemed to be "cut quite badly".
A spokesman for London Mayor Boris Johnson said: "He has spoken to the Met Police Commissioner and is liaising with the relevant agencies. His thoughts and prayers are with those involved in what is clearly a very serious incident."