St. Louis tent collapse raises safety questions

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By JIM SALTER, Associated Press

ST. LOUIS (AP) — St. Louis officials are expected to more closely scrutinize the large tents commonly set up near downtown stadiums after one of the temporary structures collapsed in high winds Saturday, resulting in the death of an Illinois man and dozens of injuries after a baseball game.

Sam Dotson, a spokesman for Mayor Francis Slay, said it's unclear if adequate regulations were in place and being followed Saturday or if the disaster was simply the result of people not paying attention to severe weather warnings.

"This tent was inspected, but we need to make sure there weren't modifications to it," he said.

The 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 people in the tent were taken to hospitals and up to 100 of the 200 gathered were treated at the scene, which was near Busch Stadium.

St. Louis police spokeswoman Schron Jackson on Sunday identified the victim as 58-year-old Alfred Goodman of Waterloo, Ill., but she didn't provide a cause of death. Dotson said a medical examiner will do an autopsy Monday and a preliminary cause of death likely would be released sometime during the day.

Dotson declined to identify any of the injured, saying only that they were taken to various local hospitals. Officials initially said five people had been transported in critical condition, but later announced all had been upgraded to serious.

Questions about the tent's safety — especially in dangerous weather — remain unanswered.

Building Commissioner Frank Oswald said Kilroy's was granted a tent permit on April 11 and it passed inspection a couple 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 the wind gust that destroyed the tent — shattering the aluminum poles and blowing the structure onto nearby railroad tracks — was measured at over 70 mph.

"I don't know if the storms have gotten worse or if we've just become more sensitive after Joplin and the storms in the South," he said, referring to tornadoes that killed hundreds last year. "We've had severe weather downtown by the ballpark before. People need to be aware of their surroundings and have a plan. If there are storms or watches, what are you going to do?"

Oswald declined to speculate about whether the bar could face sanctions. He and Deputy Fire Chief John Altmann cautioned that patrons need to understand 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. Randall said he heard a boom and first thought a derailed train had struck the tent, but which he believes was a lightning strike.

"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 and twisted ankles, Altmann said Saturday.

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.

About two hours after the tent was destroyed, another line of storms moved through the St. Louis area, carrying damaging winds and hail. Portions of Interstate 55 and Interstate 64 in the St. Louis area were closed for several hours late Saturday because of torrential rain.

Insurance adjusters were being flooded Sunday with thousands of calls from St. Louis-area home and car owners due to hail damage. One insurance adjuster told a client it would be at least a week before anyone could come and look at his car because of the number of claims coming in.

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Bill Draper in Kansas City contributed to this report.

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