SC officials say state fairgrounds ready for weather dangers

Wind gusts between 60 and 70 miles per hour toppled the stage on Saturday night as an estimated 12,000 people were waiting to see the band Sugarland.

COLUMBIA, SC (WACH) - Days after five people were killed and dozens were injured by a stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair, fair officials in South Carolina are taking note of the tragedy.

Wind gusts between 60 and 70 miles per hour toppled the stage on Saturday night as an estimated 12,000 people were waiting to see the band Sugarland. On Monday, hundreds of mourners gathered at the Indiana State Fairgrounds to remember those lost in the tragedy.

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels told the mourners the stage collapse was especially sad because the state fair is "a family reunion of all Hoosiers," where farmers and city dwellers gather for fun. Daniels praised the people who rushed to the stage to help the injured.

South Carolina State Fair general manager Gary Goodman has visited the Indiana State Fair, is familiar with their facilities and has spoken with people there since Saturday's stage collapse.

"It's a sad situation,"said Goodman. "It was just a tragedy that you cannot comprehend."

Like most state fairs, South Carolina has an extensive lineup of musical acts that will perform for the thousands of visitors that come to the fairgrounds. Goodman says there are strict policies in place that govern how these outdoor concerts are handled in the event of severe weather.

"We have a standing policy where if there are high winds, lightning, the concerts are shut down until all those warnings go away," said Goodman. "We ask everyone to leave the grandstand area and seek cover."

Goodman also says the construction of the stage at the South Carolina State Fair is different than the one in Indiana. Goodman points out the stage in Columbia can be lowered in less than a minute should severe weather hit the region, the one in Indiana was a fixed structure.

In the event of inclement weather, all patrons at the fair can be alerted by the fairground-wide audio system or by deputies on patrol who are asked to inform people of severe weather and to seek shelter.

Since 2008 there have been two accidental deaths at the South Carolina State Fair. On the last day of the fair in 2008, a fair worker was killed while he was apparently taking measurements for future maintenance on a ride called "The Inverter" when he was crushed by a counterweight while the ride was operating. OSHA cited North American Midway Entertainment for two violations in the case and the company ultimately paid a $2,000 fine.

In October 2010, Roger Thompson, 43, of Florida, was electrocuted while working on a ride called "The Rainbow." Thompson, a veteran of the fair industry, had worked for a number of companies for more than two decades.

Neither of the recent deaths at the South Carolina State Fair were impacted by weather situations like the event in Indiana.

"All you can do is prepare, prepare, prepare and do what you think is best for the patron," said Goodman.