Indiana State Fair: We thought we had more time
Organizers for the Indiana State Fair thought that they had more time to consider evacuating a grandstand before wind gusts between 60 and 70 mph toppled the stage, killing five people Saturday, a fair spokesman said on CBS' "The Early Show" Monday.
"The information we had, with our meteorologist on site with constant contact with the National Weather Service, was that we had about 30 more minutes before any kind of rain or storm blew in," fair spokesman Andy Klotz told "Early Show" co-anchor Chris Wragge.
An estimated 12,000 people were waiting to see the band Sugarland on Saturday night. The stage collapse sent about four dozen people, some critically injured, to hospitals.
(At left, watch Klotz's interview)
"We were in constant contact with the National Weather Service, and we were constantly trying to figure out what was coming, when it was coming and get people to a position of safety as best we could with the information that we had," Klotz told Wragge.
But another meteorologist said forecasting the storm wasn't difficult, CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers reports.
"It was very predictable," AccuWeather meteorologist Mike Smith told CBS News. "We put out a warning for 60 mile-an-hour winds a full half-hour before the stage collapse occurred."
Concert-goers and other witnesses told The Associated Press that an announcer warned them of impending bad weather but gave conflicting accounts of whether emergency sirens at the fair sounded. Some fair workers said they never heard any warnings.
"It's pathetic. It makes me mad," said groundskeeper Roger Smith. "Those lives could have been saved yesterday."
Klotz said the damage was so sudden and isolated that he wasn't sure sirens would have done any good.In an interview with Wragge, Gov. Mitch Daniels defended the organizers' actions, saying that the storm following the powerful gusts didn't hit the fairgrounds until 15 minutes after the stage collapsed.
(At left, watch the governor's interview)
"Nothing comes ahead of safety with the people who put this event together," Daniels told Wragge. "They think about it all the time. They were that night. They had multiple sources of counsel, including the weather service."
The fair was reopening Monday but paused first to honor and remember the five people killed in the accident. Daniels and others attended the memorial Monday morning at the state fairgrounds. The fair was to reopen afterward.
Four of the victims died at the scene: Alina Bigjohny, 23, of Fort Wayne; Christina Santiago, 29, of Chicago; Tammy Vandam, 42, of Wanatah; and 49-year-old Glenn Goodrich of Indianapolis. Nathan Byrd, a 51-year-old stagehand from Indianapolis who was atop the rigging when it fell, died overnight.
Santiago managed programming for the Lesbian Community Care Project at Howard Brown Health Center in Chicago and was named to the Windy City Times' "30 Under 30" list in 2007.
Jamal M. Edwards, the center's president and CEO, said she was one of the organization's "brightest stars" and worked to improve the lives of women, especially those who were lesbian, bisexual and transgender. Santiago attended the concert with her partner, Alisha Brennon, who was severely injured, Edwards said.
Bigjohny had been recently hired to teach seventh grade in Muncie, The Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne reported.
"She was funny, spontaneous. She was just amazing," said Danielle Stoy, who attended Manchester College with Bigjohny. She said Bigjohny attended the concert with another friend, Jennifer Haskell, who also was critically injured.
The fair canceled all activities Sunday as officials began the long process of sorting out what happened and fielded difficult questions about whether the tragedy could have been prevented.
Daniels called the accident an "unthinkable tragedy" and said the wind burst was a "fluke" that no one could have foreseen. Dan McCarthy, chief meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Indiana, said the gust was far stronger than those in other areas of the fairgrounds.
The seemingly capricious nature of the gust was evident Sunday at the fair, where crews placed a blue drape around the grandstand to block the view of the wreckage. A striped tent near the grandstand appeared unscathed, as did an aluminum trailer about 50 yards across from the grandstand. The Ferris wheel on the midway also escaped damage.
First Sgt. Dave Bursten of the Indiana State Police said the lack of damage to structures on the fair's midway or elsewhere supported the weather service's belief that an isolated, significant wind gust caused the rigging to topple.
"All of us know without exception in Indiana the weather can change from one report to another report, and that was the case here," he said.
The stage toppled at 8:49 p.m. Saturday. A timeline released by Indiana State Police shows that fair staff contacted the weather service four times between 5:30 and 8 p.m. At 8 p.m., the weather service said a storm with hail and 40 mph winds was expected to hit the fairgrounds at 9:15 p.m.
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