Missouri Tent Collapse Raises Safety Questions

By JIM SALTER | May 1, 2012

A fatal tent collapse near a downtown St. Louis, Mo., bar during a severe thunderstorm Saturday could lead to closer scrutiny of the temporary structures, a spokesman for St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said Sunday.

Also Sunday, St. Louis police spokeswoman Schron Jackson identified the victim as 58-year-old Alfred Goodman of Waterloo, Ill. Jackson didn’t provide a cause of death. City operations director Sam Dotson said the medical examiner plans do an autopsy Monday.

Saturday’s fast-moving storm ripped a large beer tent at Kilroy’s Sports Bar from its moorings and sent it and debris hurtling through the air about 80 minutes after the end of a St. Louis Cardinals game. Seventeen of the roughly 200 people in the tent were taken to hospitals and up to 100 others were treated at the scene, which was near Busch Stadium.

Questions about the tent’s safety – especially in dangerous weather – linger. St. Louis had been under thunderstorm watches and warnings for some time prior to Saturday’s incident.

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

Dotson said Sunday that a wind gust of over 70 mph destroyed the tent, shattering the aluminum poles and blowing the structure onto nearby railroad tracks.

“This tent was inspected, but we need to make sure there weren’t modifications to it,” he said, noting that the collapse was likely to spark discussion among city leaders about the safety of the tents and whether more regulations are needed to make sure they’re safe.

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

Both Oswald and Deputy Fire Chief John Altmann cautioned that patrons need to understand that a tent is not a safe place to be in bad weather.

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

Kilroy’s owner, Art Randall, said Saturday that 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 Altmann would confirm the man’s cause of death or that lightning had struck.

“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 and included cuts, bruises, twisted ankles, Altmann said Saturday.

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.

The St. Louis Cardinals held a moment of silence for the victims prior to Sunday’s game against Milwaukee, and St. Louis outfielder Jon Jay acknowledged the incident on Twitter before the game.

“My prayers are with everyone affected by the unfortunate events at Kilroy’s yesterday,” he wrote.

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