Moments before the collapse an announcer warned of the advancing storm and gave instructions on what to do in event of an evacuation. Witnesses said that a wall of dirt, dust and rain blew up quickly as a gust of high wind toppled the rigging. People ran among screams and shouts, desperate to get out of the way.
Hundreds of concert-goers rushed afterward amid the chaos to tend to the injured, many with upraised arms seeking to lift heavy beams, lights and other equipment that blew down onto the crowd. Many of the injured were in the VIP section closest to the stage. Emergency crews set up a triage center in a tunnel below the grandstand at the Indianapolis fairgrounds.
The fairgrounds were closed Sunday as investigators began the search for answers. The state fair was expected to reopen to the public Monday following a public memorial service to remember those who were killed and injured, said Cindy Hoyne, the fair’s executive director.
The Marion County, Indiana, coroner identified the three women and two men who died as: Tammy Vandam, 42, of Wanatah, Indiana; Glenn Goodrich, 49, of Indianapolis; Alina Bigjohny, 23, of Fort Wayne, Indiana; Christina Santiago, 29, of Chicago; and Nathan Byrd, 51, of Indianapolis.
Vandam, Goodrich, Bigjohny and Santiago were dead at the scene, while Byrd died later at the hospital, the coroner said. About 40 people were injured, including at least one child, WTHR reported. Witnesses reported seeing many people with head and neck injuries and broken bones.
Todd Harper, spokesman for Wishard Memorial Hospital in the city, said later Sunday that at least 18 patients were brought in. He said their problems ranged from head injuries and bone fractures to lacerations and other cuts and bruises. He said those injuries were not life-threatening and conditions ranged from fair to critical.
Bursten said the injuries ranged from cuts and scrapes to “very serious injuries” and that it was a “very likely possibility” that the death toll could also climb.
Forecasters warned heavy rain and strong winds would hit the fair nearly two hours before the storm moved through, causing the collapse of the stage Saturday night. The National Weather Service estimated winds at 60 to 70 mph.
Indiana’s position in the Midwest has long made it prone to volatile changes in weather. But even Wishard Memorial Hospital’s spokesman, Harper, said he was surprised how things blew up without warning.
“I was at home watching a movie and I looked outside and all of a sudden the wind picked up. It had been a beautiful day up until then and then it started raining – and then I started getting calls on the pager.”
“It’s not clear to me at this stage how anyone could have foreseen a sudden, highly localized gust of wind in one place,” Gov. Mitch Daniels said.
Sugarland, an Atlanta-based country duo, escaped injury since they had not yet come onstage. They later posted a message on Twitter saying they were “stunned and heartbroken for the fans.”
Jennifer Nettles, one half of the Sugarland duo, posted a statement on the group’s web site Sunday, saying “there are no words to process a moment of this magnitude and gravity.”
“There are only prayers for peace in the hearts of the bereft, and prayers of thanksgiving for those who were spared or safe. A piece of our heart is left in that grandstand,” Nettles said.
The group — along with its opening act, Sara Bareilles – cancelled their scheduled performance Sunday night at the Iowa State Fair. According to the fair’s website, “aside from coping with the magnitude of the accident, the ongoing investigation prevents the band from getting what may remain of their stage equipment.”
Sara Bareilles, who had just finished her performance when the collapse occurred, tweeted Sunday she was still thinking of all those affected.”
On her web site, she wrote: “The accident at the Indiana State Fair felt like a bad dream. The weather changed in a matter of minutes and the stage collapsed in a matter of seconds. “
And in May 2004, a tornado touched down south of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, delaying the start of the Indianapolis 500 and forcing a nearly two-hour interruption in the race.
In April 2006, tornado-force winds hit Indianapolis just after thousands of people left a free outdoor concert by John Mellencamp held as part of the NCAA men’s Final Four basketball tournament.
The August 6 incident occurred after heavy winds and rain pounded Tulsa, ending a block party music festival that featured Primus, the Flaming Lips and other acts. A lighting rig fell down and struck audio equipment and instruments. It was unclear whether there were any injuries.
Last month, a severe storm toppled a stage when classic rock band Cheap Trick was performing. No one was seriously hurt during the incident at the Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest in Canada. And earlier this month, severe weather caused a stage to collapse before a Flaming Lips performance in Oklahoma. [via Huffpost and CNN]