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Authorities seek to reassure theatergoers after London theater collapse injures 76

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    A woman stands bandaged and wearing a blanket given by emergency services following an incident at the Apollo Theatre, in London's Shaftesbury Avenue, Thursday evening.

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    Shocked and injured theatergoers are transported to hospital in a commandeered London bus following an incident during a performance at the Apollo Theatre, in London's Shaftesbury Avenue, Thursday evening, Dec. 19, 2013. It wasn't immediately clear which part of the building had collapsed. The London Fire Brigade said the theatre was almost full, with around 700 people watching the show. A spokesman said it was thought between 20 and 40 people were injured. (AP Photo by Joel Ryan, Invision)

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    Police stand outside The Apollo Theatre in London, Friday, Dec. 20, 2013, Authorities are carrying out a structural assessment at the Apollo Theatre after the partial collapse of its ceiling injured more than 75 people in the packed auditorium. An initial report is expected Friday after an overnight survey. The building remains cordoned off after the incident happened during the evening performance of "The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Nighttime." (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

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    Police stand outside The Apollo Theatre in London, Friday. Authorities are carrying out a structural assessment at the Apollo Theatre after the partial collapse of its ceiling.

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    A girl wraps herself in a blanket provided by rescue services following an incident during a performance at the Apollo Theatre, in London's Shaftesbury Avenue, Thursday evening, Dec. 19, 2013 , with police saying there were "a number" of casualties. It wasn't immediately clear which part of the building had collapsed. The London Fire Brigade said the theatre was almost full, with around 700 people watching the performance. A spokesman added: "It's thought between 20 and 40 people were injured." (AP Photo by Joel Ryan, Invision)

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    A woman walks, bandaged and wearing a blanket given by emergency services, following an incident at the Apollo Theatre, in London's Shaftesbury Avenue, Thursday evening, Dec. 19, 2013, during a performance at the height of the Christmas season, with police saying there were "a number" of casualties. It wasn't immediately clear if the roof, ceiling or balcony had collapsed during a performance. Police said they "are aware of a number of casualties," but had no further details. (AP Photo by Joel Ryan, Invision)

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    Emergency service vehicles gathered among London buses following an incident during a performance at the Apollo Theatre, far right, in London's Shaftesbury Avenue, Thursday evening, Dec. 19, 2013. It wasn't immediately clear if the roof, ceiling or balcony had collapsed. The London Fire Brigade said the theatre was almost full, with around 700 people watching the show. A spokesman said it was thought between 20 and 40 people were injured. (AP Photo by Joel Ryan, Invision)

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

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Police stand outside The Apollo Theatre in London, Friday. Authorities are carrying out a structural assessment at the Apollo Theatre after the partial collapse of its ceiling.

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LONDON — An industry group sought to reassure theatergoers today that London’s elegant but aging venues are safe after chunks of ornamental plaster fell from a ceiling of the Apollo Theatre, showering patrons with dust and debris and injuring 76 people.

The Society of London Theatre said all theaters undergo “rigorous safety checks and inspections by independent experts, and incidents like last night are extremely rare.”

“Our theatres entertain over 32,000 people in central London every night and all theatres take the safety of their audience, performers and staff very seriously,” it said.

Witnesses have described chaos and panic as large hunks of plaster, wooden beams and dust rained down on the audience 45 minutes into a performance of “The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time.”

“I thought, maybe this is part of the play,” said Scott Daniels, an American tourist from the Dallas area. “All of a sudden, plaster starts raining down, huge hunks of plaster ... The lights went out and everything filled with dust — everybody was coughing and choking.”

London Ambulance Service said seven of the injuries were serious, though none was considered life-threatening. Most of the casualties were “walking wounded” treated for cuts and grazes, breathing problems and head injuries. Several dozen injured people were taken to hospitals in ambulances and commandeered double-decker buses.

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A woman stands bandaged and wearing a blanket given by emergency services following an incident at the Apollo Theatre, in London's Shaftesbury Avenue, Thursday evening.

ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge

Nimax Theatres, which owns the Apollo, described the incident as “shocking and upsetting.”

Like many of London’s West End theaters, the Apollo, built in 1901, is more than 100 years old.

The Theatres Trust, which helps preserve Britain’s historic playhouses, said theater plasterwork was inspected regularly “and certified by independent experts.”

Westminster Council, the local authority, said an investigation was under way and an initial structural assessment had found the building is secure.

The building remained cordoned off to the public today. The Society of London theater said performances of “Curious Incident” today and Saturday had been canceled.

Marc Sinden, director of the documentary series “Great West End Theatres,” said that despite the accident, London’s theaters were extremely safe.

“These theaters have been around for a very long time, but they are looked after and regularly maintained. They are looked after daily,” he said.

"Of course theaters are safe. I just think it’s a PR disaster and something has got to be done to show that the theatres are safe.”

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