Construction cranes replaced country music fans at the Big Valley Jamboree in Alberta on Sunday, 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.
Festival organizer Panhandle Productions Ltd., said two people were in critical condition in hospital on Sunday.
Officials said about 21 of the dozens of people who were injured had to be taken to medical facilities for treatment. They would offer no details about who was killed, although Camrose police chief Darrell Kambeitz said, "we do know that the person passed away as a result of debris coming down from the stage."
At a news conference on the site Sunday, officials made it clear that the storm struck with very little notice.
"RCMP informed us at at 5:55 p.m. about unconfirmed reports that a possible tornado had touched down in the Nisku area (just south of Edmonton), said Chief 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."
Mr. 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."
Mr. 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 Mr. Werner nor Chief Kambeitz could say immediately why the structure failed, or how long it would take to get answers. Provincial officials are helping with the investigation.
Thousands of fans screamed and sought cover as the storm broke on the third day of the four-day festival.
"We said we better get out of here, so we were all racing for the exit," Lori Trelenberg of Sherwood Park, Alta., said Saturday night. "It was devastation. It was strong and powerful. The stage just sort of crumbled."
CFCW radio personality Danny Hooper had been preparing to introduce an act when the winds started to howl. He was advised to warn the crowd of an approaching storm, but only managed to get out a few words before the stage was hit.
"I can't describe the sky - it was brown and purple and green," Mr. Hooper said. "The massive wind blew me backwards."
Hollywood actor Kevin Costner and his band, Modern West, were getting ready to take the stage at what is billed as Canada's largest country music festival when it caved in. Costner's manager, Nick Meinama, said both he and the actor were caught beneath the stage, but neither was hurt. One of Currington's band members was not as lucky - his arm was badly broken.
Heavy rain fell for about an hour as emergency crews treated the injured and combed through the wreckage for survivors. The site was cordoned off by police as searchers worked through the night under blazing spotlights.
Police asked the estimated 15,000 concertgoers, who had pitched tents and parked RVs, to remain on site Saturday night to avoid a panic and traffic snarls. Most retreated to their campsites to talk about what happened or to party.
Organizers did not officially declare the concert over until early Sunday.
The storm set social networking sites buzzing, with fans and other musicians offering condolences and support.
The Oak Ridge Boys sent this message on Twitter: "Our prayers are with the Big Valley Jamboree. We have been there six times, including last summer. We know these folks."
Environment Canada had issued a thunderstorm watch for the area Saturday and a similar watch remained in effect across much of central Alberta on Sunday. Forecasters noted that a line of thunderstorms marching across the region had the potential to produce high winds, hail, local downpours and lightning.
Conditions were eerily similar on the Civic Holiday long weekend 22 years and one day earlier, when scorching weather spawned a giant tornado that ripped through Edmonton, killing 26 people, injuring about 200 others and causing widespread devastation.
Saturday's severe storm system was also blamed for the death of a toddler in Calgary. High winds blew a six-metre piece of metal from an 18-storey building under construction. It fell on a group of people on the sidewalk below, killing the little girl and injuring two others.