Big Valley Jamboree cancelled after stage collapse
Sonia Sunger, ctvedmonton.ca
Published Sunday, August 2, 2009 11:20AM MDT
Big Valley Jamboree organizers say they were on stage ready to warn concert goers when a fierce storm swept in and caused the stage to collapse, leaving two people in critical condition and killing one woman who was crushed by a speaker Saturday evening.
Organizers of the music festival held a news conference Sunday morning to provide additional updates. Event producer Larry Werner had some difficulty holding back his emotions as he detailed the events of Saturday night.
Werner says staff were monitoring a weather website, which did not update in time to send out a warning. RCMP called organizers at 5:55 about a tornado that reportedly touched down in the Nisku area and warned the storm could be heading to Camrose.
"Billy Currington was in the process of wrapping up his set and we immediately let him know that he had to get off the stage so we can announce to the crowd that we had to clear the concert bowl," said Werner.
Organizers got on stage at 5:57, but by that time the wind had already come in and they say they weren't able to get out the warning to the crowd.
Dozens of people were trapped underneath the stage as it collapsed, and one woman was fatally crushed when a speaker came tumbling down on top of her. Two other people remain in critical condition in hospital.
RCMP say 21 people were taken to hospital to be treated for their injuries and another 50 people were injured, but were not taken to hospital.
Werner says the festival has been running 17 years and has been shut down three times before due to weather, using the same procedure that was implemented Saturday evening.
Organizers say their thoughts and prayers go out to the victim's family and families of other people who were sent to hospital with injuries.
The remaining events at the music festival have now been cancelled while investigators look into the cause of the collapse.
Storm Thunders Through Big Valley Jamboree
Saturday evening around 6 p.m. a sudden and severe thunderstorm tore through Camrose and brought down the main stage at the Big Valley Jamboree.
"One minute the sun was shining, next thing you know, dark clouds - I honestly thought it was a tornado," said witness Travis Ulliac.
Witnesses say the stage tipped forward and then collapsed backwards while dozens of people were sitting in designated seating on top.
As the stage fell apart, one woman was killed when a speaker fell on top of her. "We felt her legs and that because that was all we could see was her legs and there was no pulse no nothing and then the police and fire department came in... I helped carry the lady... we set her on the floor and she was blue already," said Metro Gordey.
Emergency crews are on scene attending to those who were injured. Reports say as many as 80 people may have been injured.
At least 15 people have been taken to hospital, and many others are feared trapped under debris. Four people have been classified as "critically injured."
Country singer Jessie Farrell said she watched the stage collapse from her trailer and said it collapsed inwards like it was in an "explosion."
"The stage is in a million pieces," she said.
She told CTV News Channel Saturday evening that there was about a minute warning of a storm coming, which she described as like "bombs going off."
"Lightning, hail, thunder . . . it looked like a tornado," she said. "Debris was flying everywhere."
"There was probably 150 people on the stage at the time," said Ian Dalsin.
Within moments Dalsin says he was only able to see a few feet in front of him as heavy winds and dust caused blackout conditions.
"We had to get out of there as soon as we could," he said. "There was stuff flying everywhere - garbage cans, advertisements, everything."
The Jamboree's official website say that two people remain in critical condition with as many as 75 people being treated for various injuries.
Emergency crews were on scene attending to those who were injured with some being taken to nearby medical facitlies.
The injuries and the death have many people who attended the festival outraged. One attendee, Christain Haylett, says people should have been notified about the storm warning well in advance.
"The stage should have been evacuated," said Haylett. "It should have been done quickly and it wasn't and there are people here who are responsible for that."
CTV News spoke to officials with STARS air ambulance who say they landed in Camrose at about 7:30 Saturday; they say the weather prevented them from landing any earlier.
Actor and country singer Kevin Costner was due to perform Saturday evening. There are reports Costner went to the hospital to comfort those who were hurt.