A sixth life has been lost from injuries suffered in the stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair. Jennifer Haskell, 22, a senior at Ball State University, died Friday morning. According to the Star Press, she was best friends with another of the victims, Alina Bigjohny, 23, who died last Saturday when wind toppled the stage before Sugarland’s set. In a statement, Haskell’s uncle, Mike Whited, said: “After a long courageous battle, Jenny Haskell died at 8:15 this morning from her injuries sustained from the tragedy at the State Fair. Jenny’s family would like to thank everyone for their support and prayers during this difficult time. Continued support and prayers for the remaining victims would be greatly appreciated.”
The stage collapse, a result of a 70 mph gust of wind, has been deemed a “fluke event” by Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, who also praised the bravery of other onlookers who jumped in to help the 40 concertgoers injured in the tragic accident. As we all know by now, six days earlier, the Flaming Lips avoided near-catastrophe when a sudden storm blew their 15-foot video screen from the back of the stage at Tulsa’s Brady Block Party. About a month before that, a thunderstorm brought down the entire stage during Cheap Trick’s set at the Ottawa Bluesfest. And just yesterday, a severe storm claimed five lives at Belgium’s outdoor Pukkelpop music festival, which has since been canceled.
Looking for some good news, the National Weather Service is considering the evacuation of about 4,000 people to a safe shelter at the Missouri State Fair late Thursday night a success story, even if a concert featuring blues-rock guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd at the Pepsi Grandstand had already ended when winds of at least 70 to 80 mph hit the fairgrounds at 1 a.m. local time. The National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning 29 minutes before the storm struck Sedalia, Mo., Christopher Vaccaro of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tells EW. The State Fair Safety Officer was in contact with the NWS, he adds, and had more than an hour advance notice of the storms. There were no fatalities or serious injuries, but there was widespread damage to campers, trailers, tents, and fair booths. “Because of our seamless coordination with our partners, the Highway Patrol and Fire Safety, we were able to make the public aware early of the possible threat of storms and safely evacuate facilities to ensure everyone stayed safe,” fair director Mark Wolfe said in a statement. The fairground remained closed until 3 p.m. local time today while officials waited for electrical power to be restored. Country star Luke Bryan will headline the grandstand tonight as scheduled.
On Aug. 17, the National Weather Service launched an initiative to build a “Weather Ready Nation,” with the overall goal of improved precision when it comes to weather and water forecasts and effective communication of risk to local authorities. “Severe weather alerts issued by the National Weather Service can only be effective if decision-makers and individuals take proper precautions,” Vaccaro says. “Part of the Weather Ready Nation initiative is to strengthen the end-to-end process in which forecasts translate into life-saving actions.” The NWS was spurred into action by the following facts: The U.S. has experienced nine separate natural disasters in 2011, each with an economic loss of $1 billion or more, which ties the record set in 2008; Munich Reinsurance America, one of the top providers of property and casualty reinsurance in the U.S., reports the number of natural disasters has tripled in the last 20 years, with 2010 holding the record with about 250; and the average thunderstorm losses have increased five-fold since 1980. For the first half of 2011, there have been $20 billion in thunderstorm losses, up from the previous three-year average of $10 billion.