Photo: Famous Apollo Theatre Ceiling collapses in London
Bestselling author Freya North today described her horrifying ordeal after she was hit by falling debris when a theatre ceiling collapsed.
The writer, 46, known for her 'chick-lit' novels, was watching a performance of Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time with her son Felix when the roof of the Apollo Theatre began to cave in.
She posted a photo of her wound on Twitter, which doctors had to glue together after she was evacuated from the theatre.
Alongside the picture, she wrote: 'This is what it looks like when a theatre collapses on you. I was so very very lucky.'
She then paid tribute to the 'incredible' emergency services and thanked her followers for their support following the horrific incident.
'I thought it was part of the play – it was a progressive theatrical event,' she told the Hertfordshire Mercury.
'There was stuff going on in the gods and I heard this incredible sound, a twinkling, crackling sound. It sounded lovely.
'Then it just happened so fast. It happened slowly and fast at the same time. It was a terrible, terrible sight.'
An investigation has now been opened into how the ceiling collapsed amidst fears a torrential rain storm may have caused the accident which left dozens of people injured.
Police said there were 81 walking wounded following the incident which happened at about 8.15pm inside the packed 112-year-old Apollo Theatre in London.
Masonry from the Grade II-listed theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue plummeted into the stalls below, striking members of the 720-strong audience and filling the theatre with clouds of thick dust.
Despite the collapse, London Mayor Boris Johnson reiterated the West End was still 'open for business' in the build up to Christmas.
He said: 'I would stress that, although it is too early to say what caused this collapse, and whilst this was a serious incident, London's world-renowned Theatreland is open for business and thousands of theatre-goers will rightly be out and about tonight and over the weekend.'
All performances at the venue have been cancelled until January 4, with ticket-holders urged to seek refunds or swap their tickets for a pass to an alternative show.
Other theatres in the West End are being investigated today in a bid to ensure that a similar incident does not happen elsewhere, according to Westminster Council.
One member of last night's audience said he saw water trickling from the ceiling moments before the plaster came down on horrified theatregoers.
Johnny Cardozo, 17, said: 'I heard some creaking just before it happened and I think I saw water trickling on from the ceiling just before, but I can't be sure. At the time I just thought it was part of the show.'
A schoolgirl who was on a trip to the theatre with classmates said the group noticed a crack in the ceiling and a creaking sound seconds before the accident.
Debris: The scene inside the Apollo Theatre in the wake of the accident last night which left dozens of people injured during a performance
Danger: This picture up into the balcony shows how lights were left dangling from the edge following the collapse
Wide view: Witnesses described the air so thick with dust that it was dark inside the theatre
Getting out: The audience rushed to the exit were paramedics were waiting within a few minutes
Victim: One of the injured men, who had his bloodied head bandaged by paramedics before he was taken to hospital in a bus
Rae Oswal was watching the play with other students from Camden School for Girls when their teacher suddenly pointed at the ceiling.
'We were sitting on the top balcony on the right hand side and we could hear creaking in the ceiling,' the 17-year-old said today. 'One of my teachers pointed up to the ceiling and we could see a big crack. We started getting up and it got really loud and kept getting louder.
'It all just dropped and there was dust everywhere.My first teacher got up to go and tell someone about the creaking and then within seconds it got really bad. She was like, "get up, get up", trying to get us to move. Within seconds it all just fell and there was screaming. It was really loud and it all just crashed.
'My friend sat next to me got hit on the back by some falling plaster. She turned around against the seats and it made a small gash in her back. I had loads of black dust in my hair and my shoes were completely ruined. It was all over in about fifteen minutes, but it felt a lot longer.'
Aerial: This image shows the roof of the theatre this morning, in the aftermath of the dangerous incident
Sudden: The audience was forced to evacuate midway through a performance
Fleet: Shaftesbury Avenue was lined with ambulances and other emergency vehicle
The Society of London Theatres today tried to reassure the public that the West End's other theatres are safe despite many being more than a century old and hosting hundreds of visitors every night.
'Our theatres entertain over 32,000 people in central London every night and all theatres take the safety of their audience, performers and staff very seriously,' a spokesman said.
'Every theatre undergoes rigorous safety checks and inspections by independent experts, and incidents like last night are extremely rare.
'At a meeting today all the major theatre owners have confirmed that their safety inspections and certificates are up to date, and will co-operate fully with the authorities to reassure the public that their theatres are safe. All other London theatres remain open for business today and in the coming weeks.'
Inside the theatre: Following the chaos, two dozen ambulances were sent to treat the injured as audience members rushed to the exits
Aftermath: The scene outside the theatre this morning as firemen continued their investigation
Marc Sinden, director of Great West End Theatres, a series examining the history of London's playhouses, said the incident was a blow for the theatre industry but maintained that theatregoers should not cancel plans.
'Of course theatres are safe,' he said. 'I just think it's a PR disaster and something has got to be done to show that the theatres are safe.'
He added: 'These theatres have been around for a very long time, but they are looked after and regularly maintained. They are looked after daily. I'm terribly sorry for the people hurt but imagine how many people are injured or killed on the roads in England. You wouldn't suddenly close the M25.'
Westminster City Council said an initial investigation found that the building is structurally safe, but it is now trying to determine if a sudden burst of rainfall caused the accident.
Nimax Theatres, which owns the Apollo, said: 'We will continue to co-operate fully with the authorities to establish exactly what happened.'
London saw nearly 15 per cent of the average monthly rainfall in just two hours between 7pm and 9pm, as well hail and lightning strikes.
A MeteoGroup forecaster said: 'In terms of that particularly heavy rain that we had overnight, the heaviest rain was between 7pm and 8pm. There was 8mm in an hour in south London, and we had reports that some of that fell as hail.
'For 8mm to fall in an hour is quite a lot. The average December monthly rainfall for Heathrow, for example, is 55mm. When you put it in that sort of perspective, it was a lot.
Rushed away: A man is wheeled out of a theatre used as a makeshift treatment centre for the theatre
Helping hand: A bandaged man comforts a woman following the collapse at the Apollo Theatre
Casualties: Injured people are seen on a bus near the scene of a collapse at the Apollo Theatre in London
'We also had 15 lightning strikes that occurred during the evening yesterday. They are fairly scattered around London, but I can confirm there was one in central London.
'That is a lot of lightning, especially for quite a concentrated area. When you look at the rest of the UK there is not very much, and it's quite unusual for them all to cluster in one location.'
Nicola Aiken of Westminster Council said that all historic theatres would have their safety records checked today in a bid to avoid a similar incident recurring.
'We will be doing checks of all historic theatres' consents and licensing today in liaison with the Society of London Theatres because we want to reassure theatre-goers that theatres are safe to attend,' she told BBC Radio 4.
'We will be carrying out the investigation as to why the accident happened in the first place, but that will take some time.'
The Theatres Trust, which is reponsible for promoting the health of historic theatres, said it was 'very concerned' by the incident.
Director Mhora Samuel said: 'The first and most important next step is to establish the cause of the accident. Thankfully occurrences of theatre ceiling and plasterwork collapse are extremely rare.
'The public should be reassured that theatre owners carry out regular plasterwork inspections and maintenance regimes to ensure the safety of their buildings.'
An expert in building restoration suggested either excess water or a loose lighting rig could have been responsible.
Martyn Watchurst, who has helped maintain ceilings at the Royal Opera House and Windsor Castle, said that plaster could be weakened by faulty fittings.
'The collapse could be caused by something as simple as a chain from the lighting rig attached to the ceiling which brings the whole ceiling crashing down,' he said.
'Sometimes these rigs are put up at high speed and without the time to properly check the structure can take it.
'What could also have happened is the obvious: the heavy rain made the weight of the cast increase significantly. This puts pressure on it and the whole thing crumbles and collapses. Once one bit comes away it pulls the rest of it down with it.'
A similar incident took place in the West End in May 2004, when a chandelier slipped from its bearings at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, dislodging plaster onto the audience during a performance of When Harry Met Sally.
A capacity audience was inside the theatre, which was 45 minutes into the National Theatre's performance of The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time.
Audience members then started screaming as parts of the ceiling appeared to cave in, with some eyewitnesses hearing a loud ‘creaking’ which some initially thought was part of the show.
Two nearby theatres, the Queen's Theatre where Les Miserables is currently being shown and the Gielgud, had their lobbies transformed into makeshift triage centres for treating the wounded.
The Prime Minister, speaking at the end of an EU summit in Brussels, described it as 'an absolutely appalling event'.
He went on: 'I was following the news from the summit last night. The emergency and other services responded brilliantly. I am sure there will be lessons to learn and we must properly examine those lessons.'
Rescue effort: Emergency services attending the scene at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue
Getting away from the scene: Injured people sit wrapped in emergency blankets sit on a London bus
Several of those involved with the production took to Twitter to express sadness at the accident and thank those who helped during the crisis.
Novelist Mark Haddon, author of the book on which the play is based, wrote: 'It's been horrifying sitting here watching what has been happening at the Apollo this evening. I'm hugely relieved that no-one has died.
'I hope that those who were seriously injured are okay. I'm sorry, too, that so many people went through such a terrifying experience.'
Director Simon Stephens tweeted: 'Thank you for your messages on this sad and strange night.'
Actress Katie Elizabeth Payne, who was appearing in the show last night, wrote: 'Thanks for all your love - the cast are home and fine. My thoughts are with the audience. Horrific. Surreal.'
Mayor of London Boris Johnson added last night: 'Thank you to everyone involved in the emergency operation at the Apollo theatre tonight - incredible response in very difficult conditions.'
Aid: Paramedics attend to an injured person at the scene at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue
A spokesman for St Thomas' Hospital said 34 adults and five children had been treated after the incident.
She said: 'We admitted two adult patients for overnight care. Both are stable. The remaining 37 were discharged throughout the night.
'The majority of patients had cuts and bruises, and a small number had fractures. We have had a fantastic response from staff - both already on-site and those who came in from home to help.'
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.’
The 29-year-old, who is from Nairobi in Kenya, said: ‘I was very close to the Westgate Mall which was the scene of the recent terror attack.
‘So my first thought was instantly to check whether we should be ducking for safety. We then realised it was a structural issue and tried to get out.’
Mr Anjarwalla, 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.
‘We initially thought it was part of the show. 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’.
Police said a London bus was used to take the casualties to hospital, while members of the public were asked to avoid the area.
Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute to rescue crews, writing on Twitter: 'I've been updated regularly on the Apollo incident. I'm grateful for the fast work of the emergency services in helping the injured.'
On location: Walking wounded were taken from the scene in ambulances as a team of firefighters rushed through the front stage door in Archer Street
Paramedics: Rescue services pull a injured person from the scene of an apparent balcony collapse
EDWARDIAN THEATRE THAT FIRST OPENED ITS DOORS 1901
The cast of the play includes the likes of Jo Dockery, sister of Downton Abbey's Michelle Dockery, former EastEnders actress Amanda Drew and Trevor Fox from 2000 film Billy Elliot
Emergency services were called to the scene shortly after 8.15pm, as eyewitnesses reported many theatre-goers crying and trying to make contact with family members as some were initially thought to be trapped inside the building.
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.’
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.’
Sean Walsh, who was visiting the show with his girlfriend, said they were sitting in the balcony when they first spotted a group of people below them shouting to leave the theatre immediately.
Mr Walsh, 41, from north London, said: ‘We were right up in the gods and a couple in the group below just said “Go!”
‘We thought they were just leaving because maybe they were bored, and my girlfriend thought maybe they had seen a mouse. But then the whole of the ceiling just came down.’
Young and old: A girl wraps herself in a blanket provided by rescue services following the incident
Carried away: A woman lies on a stretcher surrounded by rescue workers, awaiting evacuation
Paramedics helping: An injured woman is moved on a stretcher following an incident at the Apollo Theatre
He said people in the balcony filed out of the theatre calmly, but added: ‘It was difficult - you could hardly see the seat in front of you, due to the dust.’
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.’
A district surveyor from Westminster City Council was on the way to the scene to carry out structural assessment of the building.
It is thought the engineer, who will be accompanied by police officers, will spend most of the night getting access inside the theatre to ensure it is safe.
Actresses: The cast of the play includes the likes of Jo Dockery, sister of Downton Abbey's Michelle Dockery (together, left), former EastEnders actress Amanda Drew (right) and Trevor Fox from 2000 film Billy Elliot
Theatre: The three-galleried auditorium, which seats 796, is decorated with elaborate plasterwork and the balcony on its third tier is considered the steepest in London (file picture)