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St. Louis tent collapse raises safety questions

ST. LOUIS — A fast-moving storm ripped a large beer tent near Busch Stadium from its moorings and sent it and debris hurtling through the air, killing one person, seriously injuring several others and causing a panic among the many Cardinals fans inside.

Saturday's collapse of the tent outside Kilroy's Sports Bar near Busch Stadium, one of several that cater to spillover bar crowds before and after games, happened about 80 minutes after the St. Louis' 7-3 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers.

Seventeen of the roughly 200 people who were in the tent were taken to hospitals and up to 100 others were treated at the scene. Authorities did not disclose the name of the man who was killed, or say how he died. But Eddie Roth, the director of the city's Department of Public Safety, said the man appeared to be in his 50s.

Building Commissioner Frank Oswald said Kilroy's was granted a tent permit on April 11 and it passed inspection a couple of days later. But he said the city requires tents to be able to withstand winds up to 90 mph.

Roth said straight-line winds of about 50 mph shattered the aluminum poles holding up the Kilroy's tent and blew the structure onto nearby railroad tracks.

Oswald declined to speculate about whether the bar could face discipline.

Kilroy's owner, Art Randall, said it took about five seconds for the wind to lift the tent and send it and much of what was inside airborne.

"It was crazy, scary," said Annie Randall, whose family owns the bar. "We're just so sorry this happened."

Janece Friederich was in the parking lot when she saw dark clouds approaching. Before she could get out of the car and go into the bar, she saw the tent fly into the air.

"It looked like it just got ripped out because it ended up 100 feet in the air on top of the railroad tracks," Friederich said.

Art Randall said he heard a boom and first thought a derailed train had struck the tent, but which he believes was a lightning strike. He said firefighters told him lightning, not flying debris, killed the man. But neither Roth nor Deputy Fire Chief John Altmann would confirm the man's cause of death or that lightning had struck.

"At some point in that five seconds, we were getting lightning strikes, and apparently one of our customers got hit by lightning right in the middle of the dance floor," Randall said.

Randall said he screamed for help and three customers ran over to administer CPR, but they couldn't save the man.

Looking around, he "saw 50 bodies scattered everywhere." He described a scene in which barstools, pedestals and a 100-pound bass amplifier were flying through the air. The disc jockey working the party was struck by the amp and knocked unconscious, he said, and people were scurrying to help one another.

"My wife had people in the beer cooler — we had the beer cooler loaded with injuries," Randall said. "It was a triage deal."

Most of the injuries were minor — cuts, bruises, twisted ankles, Altmann said. He did not have details about those with serious injuries.

Several bars and restaurants in the area around Busch Stadium set up tents throughout the baseball season to handle overflow crowds — Cardinals games are typically sellouts, or close to it. In addition to the baseball game, about 20,000 fans were downtown Saturday for a St. Louis Blues hockey playoff game.

Both Oswald and Altmann cautioned that patrons need to understand that a tent is not a safe place to be in bad weather. St. Louis had been under thunderstorm watches and warnings for some time prior to the incident at Kilroy's.

"Tents are temporary structures," Oswald said. "They are certainly not designed in any stretch of the imagination to handle weather like this."

About two hours after the incident at Kilroy's, tornado sirens blared throughout the city after a funnel cloud sighting. There were several reports of tree damage, power lines down and damage from hail that in some parts of the region reportedly was as big as tennis balls. By late evening, about 2,600 Ameren UE electrical customers were without power in the city.