By Matthew Pearson
OTTAWA — Thousands of people were evacuated from Ottawa’s Bluesfest on Sunday after the stage collapsed during a Cheap Trick concert.
Ottawa police reported that two people suffered non-life threatening injuries.
Concertgoer Pamela Cogan said a pole broke off the back of the stage and hit Cheap Trick’s driver.
“I held his head until I got him into the ambulance,” said Cogan, a respiratory therapist at the Ottawa Hospital who is also trained in first aid.
She said he suffered head and leg injuries and a cut on his stomach.
“I can’t understand how people on the stage weren’t hurt,” said Cogan, who said she was standing about three metres away when the storm hit.
The Sunday evening programming at the multi-day outdoor concert was cancelled after the violent storm.
Bluesfest spokesman Joe Reilly said the festival constantly monitors weather satellites. He said there was a warning shortly before the storm hit from the northwest, but he said the “micro burst” proved unpredictably violent.
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“Everyone left in an orderly manner,” said Reilly. “They handled the situation very well and thankfully we have no serious injuries to report.”
According to Reilly, Bluesfest has a plan in place to deal with emergencies “and it worked.”
“Our security staff worked with police to quickly move people away from the collapsed stage in as calm a manner as possible. The first priority was to get people to safety and away from other structures that could have presented a danger.”
Bluesfest videographer Alex Gebethner, 24, was on top of the tower in front of the main stage with a group of people, including Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, when the tornado-force winds hit around 7:20 p.m. Cheap Trick was about 20 minutes into their performance, but was able to get off the stage safely.
Another videographer was about to descend the steep stairs when a gust of wind nearly swept him off the 15-metre tower. Gebethner said someone, likely a mayor’s aide, grabbed him, and probably saved his life. “I haven’t been this close to death in a while,” said an obviously rattled Gebethner.
“The stage went over backwards,” said Maureen Meaney from Ottawa, who was watching the concert with her husband and son.
“They were really getting the crowd worked up,” said Meaney. “They had literally just played, I Want You to Want Me when the stage fell down.”