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Weather experts discuss whether State Fair stage collapse deaths could have been avoided

By | Published on Tuesday 16 August 2011

Indiana State Fair

There was some debate yesterday in the US as to how much warning organisers of the Indiana State Fair really had that incredibly strong winds were incoming and likely to cause havoc across the site of their event.

As previously reported, audience members at the Fair on Saturday evening were told that a storm was approaching but that it was still hoped country stars Sugarland could perform on the event’s Hoosier Lottery Grandstand stage. Shortly afterwards 60 to 70 mph winds struck, forcing stage rigging to come crashing to the ground, killing five and injuring dozens more. The dramatic moments when the stage collapsed were caught on camera by one audience member.

On Sunday, Indiana State Governor Mitch Daniels said that “freak gusts of wind” had caused the accident, which State Fair organisers could not have foreseen. Meanwhile, yesterday a spokesman for the Fair said that the metrological information they were relying on suggested there was at least half an hour more time before the storm would arrive at their site. He told a US radio station: “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”.

A report by the Associated Press, which interviewed audience members at the Fair, found mixed views among the public as to how well organisers put out their weather warning. Meanwhile, some meteorologists claimed there were very real severe weather warnings that State Fair organisers ignored. Mike Smith from AccuWeather told CBS News that the storm at the Fair site “was very predictable”, adding:  “We put out a warning for 60 mile an hour winds a full half hour before the stage collapse occurred”.

A memorial service was held at the Fair yesterday morning for those that died in the accident, attended by Governor Daniels. The Fair is due to continue until 21 Aug, although some of the big music events, including performances by Janet Jackson and Lady Antebellum, have now been cancelled. A double bill featuring Maroon 5 and Train will go ahead on Thursday, though at a different location from the Hoosier Lottery Grandstand that was due to host all the big concerts.