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(ILLINOIS) — One person died and dozens were injured after the roof of a historic theater in Illinois collapsed during a suspected tornado Friday night, officials said.
More than 40 people were injured in the incident at the Apollo Theatre in Belvidere, which was hosting a heavy metal concert at the time, officials said. Among those transported via ambulance from the venue were two with life-threatening injuries, two with severe injuries, 18 with moderate injuries and five with minor injuries, according to Dan Zaccard, emergency management director for Boone County.
A 50-year-old man wearing a concert T-shirt was pronounced dead at the scene, officials said.
More than 200 people were inside the venue at the time of the roof collapse, Belvidere Fire Chief Shawn Schadle said during a press briefing Saturday morning.
“Luckily due to the response and all the first responders and the bystanders helping assist everybody out, I believe the conditions could have been much worse,” Schadle said. “We are very fortunate in certain situations. It is still a tragedy.”
There are no reports of anyone missing, officials said.
The theater was in a path of a suspected tornado that also severely damaged buildings, downed trees and flipped vehicles, Zaccard said. A tornado siren went off at 7:24 p.m. local time; at 7:47 p.m., there were reports of the roof collapse, he said.
Officers responding to the incident were greeted with “absolute chaos” inside the building, Belvidere Police Chief Shane Woodley said.
First responders were conducting triage at the scene, and those attending the concert helped remove debris from victims, officials said.
“There was a concerted effort by a lot of concertgoers, bystanders, to help each other and that did help us a lot,” Zaccard told reporters during the press briefing.
‘Everyone started screaming’
Concertgoers Luke Nissen, 31, and Joe Cieck, 27, told ABC News in an exclusive interview that they received an emergency alert notifying them of a tornado warning via text, but they did not anticipate any danger.
“Everyone kind of chuckled off the phone alerts,” Nissen said. “Obviously we all know the weather is coming in but it’s the Midwest. We get these kinds of super tornado warnings all the time and 99% of the time it’s uneventful.”
Nissen and Cieck said organizers paused the concert shortly before the roof suddenly collapsed, covering them and others in debris.
“It just was pitch-black for a second, a big giant boom and you just smell the dust and everything in the air,” Nissen said. “Everyone started screaming, ‘Help! Help! Help!'”
Cieck said fire alarms were going off and it was “absolute chaos.”
The two friends quickly jumped into action, pulling victims out from the rubble.
“I could hear this woman screaming. I just started pulling the debris away from underneath just to try to figure out where she was. I start yelling at people to pull the debris away,” said Nissen, who had puncture marks left behind after nails in the splintered wood dug into his skin.
Historic building condemned
The Apollo Theatre and a building nearby have been condemned due to the damage, Zaccard said.
The theater, which was built more than 100 years ago, is a historic site and “centerpiece” of the northern Illinois city, Schadle said.
“It’s something we’re proud of here,” said Schadle, who said that structural engineers would be coming to the site Saturday to “see if it can be salvageable.”
Belvidere Mayor Clinton Morris said the theater was the “city’s brand.”
“It is significant with our downtown history,” he told reporters during the briefing.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Friday night he was “closely monitoring” the incident and was in touch with officials “for updates and to direct any available resources we can.”
The band Morbid Angel, which was performing at the Apollo Theatre when the roof collapsed, said in a statement on Facebook Saturday that it sends its ” deepest and heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of the individual who tragically lost their life.”
“We lost a brother in Metal last night, and many were hurt and injured in this tragedy,” said the band while thanking everyone who helped get people to safety. “At this time our minds continue to remain with all those who were injured and hospitalized, as well as everyone who was [affected] by the storms in the surrounding area.”
The band had warned anyone still traveling to the venue Friday night to seek shelter.
“We are currently sheltering in place, and want to extend our support and hope that everyone at the show tonight is safe,” Morbid Angel said in a Facebook post Friday night. “Right now our focus is on making sure everyone in the venue tonight is ok and gets home.”
A tornado watch was in effect for the Boone County area from 2:30 p.m. through 10 p.m. local time Friday. A tornado warning was subsequently issued from 7:23 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. local time.
When asked whether there was any discussion about postponing Friday night’s concert due to the severe weather threat, Schadle said he could not speak on behalf of the Apollo Theatre but said that the fire department had extra staffing.
The deadly incident occurred amid a significant tornado outbreak in the Midwest and South.
More than 28 million people across the South and Midwest were under a tornado watch going into Friday night, according to the National Weather Service.
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