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Governor says fatal stage collapse at Indiana State Fair was a 'fluke'

The wind gust that toppled a stage at the Indiana State Fair on Saturday night, killing five and injuring dozens of fans waiting for the country band Sugarland to perform, was a "fluke" that no one could have anticipated, the governor and others said Sunday.

The wind was far stronger than that in other areas of the fairgrounds, said Dan McCarthy, chief meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Indiana. He estimated the gust at 60 to 70 mph.

Gov. Mitch Daniels said precautions were taken before the storm, but no one could have foreseen such a strong gust focused in one place. Some witnesses have said that while a storm was expected, rain hadn't begun to fall when the wind sent the stage rigging falling into the crowd of terrified fans.

"This is the finest event of its kind in America, this is the finest one we've ever had, and this desperately sad, as far as I can tell, fluke event doesn't change that," Daniels said.

Four people were killed when the metal scaffolding that holds lights and other stage equipment fell, and a fifth died overnight at a hospital, Indiana State Police 1st Sgt. Dave Bursten said. The county coroner's office identified the victims as Alina Bigjohny, 23, of Fort Wayne; Christina Santiago, 29, of Chicago; Tammy Vandam, 42, of Wanatah; and two Indianapolis residents: 49-year-old Glenn Goodrich and 51-year-old Nathan Byrd. Byrd died overnight.

Forty-five people were taken to hospitals, and some may have gone on their own, Bursten said. Indiana University Health said 12 of the 26 people treated at its hospitals were still there, including three at its children's hospital. It did not provide information about their conditions.

Fair director Cindy Hoye said it was too soon to talk about who was responsible for the stage and its rigging because the investigation had just started, but she had confidence in Mid-America, the company that owns the stage. Mid-America did not respond to messages left Sunday.

A timeline released by Indiana state police showed fair staff contacted the National Weather Service four times between 5:30 and 8 p.m. The Weather Service said at 8 p.m. that a storm with hail and 40-mph winds was expected to hit the fairgrounds at 9:15 p.m., and fair staff began making evacuation plans.

Concert-goers said opening act Sara Bareilles had finished performing, and the crowd was waiting for Sugarland to take the stage when an announcer alerted them that severe weather was possible and gave instructions on what to do if an evacuation was necessary. But the announcer also said concert organizers hoped the show would go on, and many fans stayed put.

The timeline shows the announcement was made at 8:45 p.m., and the gust hit four minutes later. Witnesses said dirt, dust, rain and wind came barreling up the fairground's main thoroughfare, and then the stage collapsed.

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