CAMROSE — Construction cranes replaced country music fans Sunday at Alberta’s Big Valley Jamboree as workers cleaned up after a devastating storm that smashed into the main concert stage, killing one person and injuring as many as 75 others.
The concert bowl caved in after wild winds hit the popular annual festival in Camrose, about 100 kilometres southeast of Edmonton, around suppertime on Saturday.
Friends told CTV Edmonton the dead woman was Donna Moore, 35, a marketing assistant for the Town of Lloydminster, Sask., on the Alberta-Saskatchewan boundary.
She was killed when an enormous speaker fell on her.
Concertgoer Metro Gordey said he and another man tried to pull the woman from the wreckage.
“Her back was up, I rolled her over, she was all blue,” he recalled on Sunday. “I put my hand on her leg, the other guy put his hand on her leg, and we could not feel any pulse.”
Festival organizer Panhandle Productions Ltd., said two people remained in hospital in critical condition.
Officials said about 21 of the dozens of people who were injured had to be taken to medical facilities for treatment.
At a news conference on the site Sunday, officials made it clear that the storm struck with very little notice.
“RCMP informed us at 5:55 p.m. about unconfirmed reports that a possible tornado had touched down in the Nisku area (just south of Edmonton),” said Camrose police Chief Darrell Kambeitz.
“We had people on the stage at 5:57 p.m., and the storm struck between 5:57 p.m. and 6 p.m.”
Producer Larry Werner said his office also got a call saying a severe windstorm was heading directly for the venue.
“At that time I ran for the stage from our production office. (Nashville musician) Billy Currington was in the process of wrapping up his set and we immediately let him know he had to get off the stage so we could announce to the crowd that we had to clear the concert bowl.”
Werner paused Sunday when reporters asked him what he would say to people who thought there should have been more notice.
“What do you say?” he asked. “We worked with what we had to work with. I wish nobody was hurt. I wish it never happened. It did, and now we have to deal with it.”
Werner said producers have had to shut down the concert three times in the last 17 years. “The procedures followed for those weather fronts were the same as the procedures followed (Saturday).”
Neither Werner nor Kambeitz could say immediately why the structure failed, or how long it would take to get answers. Provincial officials are helping with the investigation.
Aaron Vandermeulen, 16, of Regina stood staring as the giant construction cranes carefully tried to pry apart twisted piles of collapsed metal stage supports.
The teen, who was helping to string cable for video cameras on stage when the high winds struck, absently touched a large scrape across his nose as he recalled the terrifying experience.
“One of the guys working in the sound booth came in and said, ‘You’d better get out of here.’ ” Vandermeulen said.