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Almost 90 injured following ceiling collapse at packed London theater

Emergency crews said nearly 90 people were injured on Thursday after a section of ceiling collapsed during an evening performance at the Apollo Theater. While some of the injuries are serious, there have been no fatalities.

Medical officials said 88 people sustained injuries. Of the casualties, 81 have been described as “walking wounded,” while seven others were transported to the hospital with serious wounds, mostly head injuries.

Nick Harding from London Fire Brigade said a section of plaster ceiling, measuring about 10 meters (33 feet) by 10 meters, had dropped onto the audience.

"The ceiling took parts of the balconies down with it," Harding said, as quoted by Reuters. "Everyone is out of the building and everyone is safe," he added.

Police were called at approximately 8:15 pm, arriving at the theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue in central London to find “a number of casualties.” There have been no reported fatalities.

Witnesses told ITV News they could hear the ceiling creaking but had assumed it was part of the production.

“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,” said one man who identified himself only as Ben. “There was dust everywhere, everybody’s covered in dust. We got out fairly quickly, I think everyone was quite panicked.”

The accident occurred as some 720 people, many together with family, were watching the play “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.” Many theatre-goers were coughing and helping each other as they exited the building, with one man telling reporters he saw a “large bit of plasterwork” fall and shatter on a woman’s head.

Andrew Howard-Smith, 68, explained to the BBC that he was on the balcony below when the incident occurred.

“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,” he said. “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 just the edge. It wasn’t the whole of the balcony, just the front two feet.”

Khalil Anjarwalla was watching the show with his pregnant wife and her family before they had to find a way out of the building in the confusion.

“Within an instant the whole roof seemed to come down,” he said “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 actors seemed to run from the stage, they had obviously seen what happened.”

Martin Bostock told the Associated Press he was sitting in the audience with his family when a crack appeared to develop followed by “complete chaos” in the building.

“At first we thought it was part of the show,” he said. “Then I got hit on the head.”

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime” is especially popular with young families and Thursday’s show was reported to be sold out, meaning at least 775 people were seated throughout the theatre’s four levels. Many of those parents and children emerged after they were showered with debris.

“There are a lot of people with blood on their faces,” said audience member Simon Usborne. Another witness added that “everyone who was in there wanted to get out as quickly as possible but you couldn’t see anything it was pitch black in there. It was complete pandemonium.”

The Apollo was first built in 1901, although it has undergone renovations multiple times over the last century. Located in London’s Soho district, it seats nearly 800 and is known for its third balcony, which ThisisTheatre.com warned is “the steepest in London.”

Police and emergency services personnel assist in operations behind a cordon following a ceiling collapse at a theatre in Central London on December 19, 2013.(AFP Photo / Leon Neal)