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Circus Tent Collapses, Injuring Spectators

July 12, 1987

HOWARD, Wis. (AP) _ A circus tent battered by winds collapsed during a performance Saturday afternoon, injuring 44 people as spectators scrambled for safety, officials and witnesses said.

About 1,100 people were in the audience at the Toby Tyler Circus when the accident happened about 3 p.m., said sheriff’s Sgt. George Weitzel.

One man was hospitalized with a broken leg and 43 others were treated for lesser injuries, hospital officials said.

″Within just a few seconds, the entire tent had just literally picked itself up and thrown itself on top of the bleachers,″ said Chip Andis of Green Bay.

Andis said he decided to get his his wife and four children out when the sky turned dark and the wind started to blow.

″We were on our way out, we were heading toward the exit, before it really started hitting, when everything started rattling and shaking,″ Andis said. ″Then the tent started going (and) everybody started screaming and panicking and going even faster,″ Andis said. ″By the time the wind actually hit and started picking up the tent, it was all over in five seconds.″

″Evidently other people saw me getting up and going too, because it was almost like I started a rush,″ he said.

The patient with the fractured leg was undergoing surgery Saturday evening at St. Mary’s Hospital in Green Bay, said evening supervisor Sandy Oleniczak. Twenty-five other people treated and released.

Eighteen people were treated, mostly for cuts and bruises, at Green Bay’s St. Vincent Hospital, said nursing supervisor Alice Witzke.

Rescue squads from nearby communities were sent to the scene of the accident in the village, northwest of Green Bay, while some people were carried to hospitals by private vehicles, Weitzel said.

The tent was 274 feet long, 134 feet wide and 42 feet high, he said, and circus officials had told him it was designed to withstand winds of 70-75 mph.

The peak wind gust recorded at the Green Bay airport Saturday afternoon was 44 mph at 2:48 p.m., but higher gusts could have occurred elsewhere as thunderstorms moved through the area, said Steven Hentz, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service at Milwaukee.

Weitzel said it was fortunate that the tiger act had just concluded and the animals were back in their cage when the tent blew down. Circus workers cut holes in the tent to pull people out after it collapsed, he said.

The circus had scheduled performances at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Calls to the Sarasota, Fla., office of Extravaganza Inc., which owns the circus, went unanswered Saturday evening.

Last year, the circus twice was struck by bleacher collapses.

A bleacher collapse during a June 16, 1986, stop in Greenport, N.Y., left 68 people hurt. Officials said the accident was a result of the bleachers being placed on muddy ground.

Six weeks earlier, on May 9, the circus was involved in a similar accident in Middletown Township, Penn., in which nine people were injured and 30 temporarily trapped under bleachers.

The Greenport accident prompted a flurry of legislative and legal action in New York state, including passage by the Legislature of a bill stiffening penalties for willful violations of the state’s safety code that lead to serious injury or death.

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