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Indianapolis stage collapse: Death toll could rise from Sugarland concert accident

August 14, 2011 | 12:45 am

Fans_and_law_enforcement_work_to_lift_stage
Officials in Indianapolis said early Sunday that the toll could rise beyond the four confirmed dead after rigging and scaffolding collapsed onto a crowd waiting for the country band Sugarland to perform at the Indiana State Fair.

“I want to be very forthcoming -- we could have other deaths,” said Indiana State Police Sgt. Rich Myers. “We hope everyone will be praying for the injured.”

In a dramatic scene captured on a YouTube video, the towering stage equipment tumbled forward onto fans against a backdrop of darkened skies, a massive dust storm and gusty winds. One woman could be heard saying, “Oh my God, oh my God!”

Photos: Deadly stage collapse

“It was like it was in slow motion,” concertgoer Amy Weathers told the Indianapolis Star. “You couldn't believe it was actually happening.”

At least 40 people were injured and taken to local hospitals, where triage and family reunification rooms were set up. 

Shortly after the accident, Sugarland said on Twitter: “We are all right. We are praying for our fans, and the people of Indianapolis. We hope you will join us. They need our strength.”

In the choas afterward, scores of concertgoers rushed to the stage to lift broken scaffolding and equipment off people, Myers said during a televised press conference about five hours after the 9 p.m. accident.

“People put themselves in jeopardy…and it’s gratifying to know that at a moment’s notice people will jump in to help others,” he said.

No one was performing at the time of the collapse. The opening act had finished, and the crowd was waiting for Sugarland to take the stage.

At the same time, the weather was worsening; there had been heavy rain and winds were picking up. State police were monitoring radar weather reports on their Smartphones. They had just decided to evacuate the  grandstands and were putting officials in place to carry out the plan. But it wasn’t fast enough.

"What hit wasn't a storm, it was a significant gust of wind," Myers said. "That gust upset the rigging and structure up on the stage and caused the collapse."

State police said that those hospitalized had suffered a range of injuries from minor to critical.

Athough there were no accounts of missing people, authorities were searching the fairgrounds early Sunday for possible victims.

“We are making sure no one was in a state of confusion, injured or dazed and could have wandered,” Myers said.

Officials are putting together a detailed timeline of events and weather reports leading up to the accident to gain an “understanding of everything that occurred.”

He did not have information about how the stage structure was assembled, but said investigators will probe those issues.

Associated Press photographer Darron Cummings was in the audience as a fan shortly before the collapse.  Cummings said he and his friends sought shelter in a nearby barn after seeing the weather radar.

“Then we heard screams. We heard people just come running,” Cummings said.

ALSO:

--Stephanie Chavez and Rene Lynch. The Associated Press also contributed to this report.

Photo: Fans work alongside law enforcement to hold up the stage after high winds blew it over onto fans, killing four and sending dozens to hospitals. (AP Photo/The Indianapolis Star, Matt Kryger)

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