Yorkshire impresario wakes to find his theatre wrecked by tornado

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A Leeds theatre producer has told how a violent storm which ripped through the American midwest, leaving 12 dead, wrecked his theatre – hours after a glittering first night production.

David King was sleeping in a hotel across the road from his theatre in the US resort town of Branson, Missouri, when it was hit by a tornado, one of 16 reported from Nebraska to Kentucky.

The 55-year-old was woken in the early hours of Wednesday by sirens and looked out the window to see “the sky had turned black”.

Moments later he and his partner Cilla Rees were shepherded to the safety of the basement by staff at the Plaza Hotel.

King, who started his working life on Kirkgate Market, said: “All the lights had gone out, all the electric had gone it was as if a bomb had gone off. As we were making our way down the stairs there were loud violent bangs, – like bombs going off. Bells were ringing and sirens were blaring. It sounded like total chaos –- like the end of the world.”

It was only once the storm passed that someone came down to the basement to give the all- clear and break the news his theatre was one of those hit.

“The first I knew of it was someone shouting ‘Is David King here? His theatre’s been hit’.

“I thought maybe it was a case of a few bins being knocked over or something but when I saw it I could hardly believe my eyes.

“The front of the building had been ripped off. It looked like a giant hand had come down and just torn it apart.”

Mr King purchased the theatre – which was built by 1960s American pop legend Bobby Vinton – eight years ago. He estimates repairs will cost around £1m, but fears the damage may be so bad it could have to be torn down.

Almost 40 people were injured in Branson but 30 Britons employed by Mr King all escaped unhurt. Other theatres also suffered significant damage including the Andy Williams Moon River Theatre when the tornado, estimated to have been 400 yards wide and travelling on the ground for about 20 miles, took out hotels, theatres and homes in the commercial district.

Mr King added: “At the end of the day my theatre can be repaired or replaced. People have lost their lives and that is tragic.

“We will all bounce back from this and as they say in my industry ‘the show must go on’.”