Indiana state officials insisted today that no one could have foreseen the rapid change in weather and sudden 70 mph winds that brought the stage at the Indiana State Fair toppling down as 12,000 people waited for a Sugarland concert.
The nightmarish scene Saturday night, when winds of up to 70 mph blew down thousands of pounds of steel scaffolding, wooden beams, lighting, sound and other equipment of an outdoor stage at the state fair, left at least five people dead, officials said.
Roughly 40 others have reportedly been injured, although Indiana State Police have said that number could rise, given that some might have been transported privately for emergency care, rather than in ambulances ordered by rescue workers.
Gov. Mitch Daniels said the wind gust was a "fluke" that no one could have anticipated. Rain had been in the forecast, but not the sudden high winds that damaged the stage.
"It's not clear to me at this stage how anyone could have foreseen a sudden, highly localized blast of wind in one place," Daniels said. "The weather service is very good. They were in constant contact, repeated contact with the folks here at the fairgrounds, and they were right about the arrival of the storm. It came 15 or 20 minutes after the tragedy."
"In Indiana the weather can change from one report to another report and that was the case here," State Police Sgt. Dave Bursten said.
But some of the people who were there said they aren't so sure.
"There should have been warning the storm was coming," one witness said. "You could tell the sky was getting really dark off to the left."
The crowd had been warned that thunderstorms were approaching and that they might have to evacuate. But the same announcer said concert organizers hoped the show would go on, so many stayed put.
Two minutes later, just before 9 p.m., it was too late.
"The funnel cloud came in and all of a sudden it started twirling around and the next thing I knew, I looked over my shoulder and the stand started coming down," witness Jay Keiser said.
The fair was closed today as OSHA and the state fire marshal investigated, looking into how safely that steel scaffolding was constructed.
Daniels and police officials today praised the hundreds of people who rushed to help when the stage at the Indiana State Fair collapsed as a crowd was waiting for a concert by the country duo Sugarland.
While many people fled as the massive structure fell under the force of the winds, hundreds rushed to help the victims, many trying to lift the stage to free people trapped underneath.
"You had law enforcement, you had citizens, you had people jumping into lift pieces of equipment off the injured and the people who were killed in this tragic accident," Bursten said.
The governor said those people exemplify for him the Hoosier spirit.
"The individual Hoosiers who ran to the trouble, not from the trouble, by the hundreds, offering their, in many cases their own professional skills," Daniels said. "It's the character that we associate with our state, people don't have to be paid to do it."
Sugarland singer Jennifer Nettles also referred to the heroism of so many in the crowd in a statement she sent to The Associated Press through her manager.