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TORONTO — The organizer of an Ottawa music festival where the stage collapsed during a sudden storm, scurrying thousands of fans who were watching the band Cheap Trick, called the accident “a freak situation” at a press conference Monday.
Organizers had been monitoring the weather moments before a violent summer gale toppled the main stage at the Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest on Sunday night, said Mark Monahan, the festival’s executive director.
Three people were hospitalized for their injuries but were later released, Monahan said. The band’s truck driver was among the injured. Some concertgoers said it was a miracle that nobody died.
“Honestly, what we’ve been told, it was a very unusual situation. The fact that (the storm) brought that stage down and nothing else came down in the park is just a freak situation,” Monahan said.
Cheap Trick had been playing for about 20 minutes when howling winds and storm suddenly clouds blew in. The band quickly left as the stage began to collapse, sending about 10,000 fans scrambling to make their way to safety.
“Everyone is shaken up but band and crew are all fine,” the band, which formed in the 1970s and is best known for the hits “Surrender” and “I Want You to Want Me,” said in a message posted on Facebook. “Cheap Trick hopes that everyone who attended the show is also ok.”
Cheap Trick lead singer Robin Zander wrote on Facebook: “Fortunately the band and crew are all lucky to be alive and we’ll see you down the road. And all the best to our truck driver Sandy.”
Concertgoer Pamela Cogan, a respiratory therapist, was at the foot of the stage and jumped the barricades after the collapse to see if anyone required assistance. She said it was a “miracle” that nobody died.
“It was like a scene out of ‘Armageddon.’ Right before the collapse, it was sunny and lovely, and then moments later, dark clouds appeared, and the atmosphere changed. A gust of wind blew confetti from the ground up, the drapes blew inwards, the stage collapsed, and someone yelled, ‘Get off,’” Cogan said.
She said she was shocked when the only injured person she could find was the truck driver behind the stage.
“It’s a miracle, even the way the stage fell back and not forward onto the people at the show. There were fans sitting on the stage right behind the rigging. I have no idea how everyone made it out alive,” said the 47-year-old veteran Bluesfest attendee, who watched the show with her son and his friends.
Cheap Trick manager Dave Frey, who was on stage seconds before the collapse, told Rolling Stone magazine that the driver’s leg was broken and the band lost all of its equipment.
Video posted on YouTube within minutes of the storm’s passing showed a collapsed stage that had been propelled backward before crumpling and damaging a tractor-trailer truck parked behind it. Twisted shards of metal jutted out from the stage, which stood several stories tall before it was destroyed.
Concertgoer Kim Sachar Esselaar said the stage caved in almost immediately.
“The wind started funneling around us, whipping the sand and dust and I saw tons of birds flying away. Then the wind started rattling the main stage and in seconds we saw it collapse. Many people started screaming and were making their way to the exits,” she said.
Monahan said the stage was rented from a Montreal firm and was inspected regularly during the festival. He said the same stage had been used for the past five years. The Ministry of Labour is surveying the site and will produce a report on the accident.
The storm caused power outages on both sides of the Ottawa River. Hydro Quebec said about 61,000 households were left without power.
In the Ottawa region, police said they received more than 300 emergency calls in a two-hour period on Sunday.
Bluesfest is one of North America’s biggest musical events. The festival first took place in 1994 and has since grown from a one-stage, three-day event to a multi-staged, 12-day music showcase featuring some of the most celebrated international talent.