LANCASTER, N.H. — Circus workers first told spectators to stay put as a severe storm bore down on the tent where they had gathered, then told them to seek shelter in their cars just before the tent collapsed, killing a father and daughter, the state fire marshal said Wednesday.

Fire Marshal Bill Degnan said workers saw a piece of loose canopy near the tent’s main entrance and told the roughly 100 people inside to remain seated while they secured it. As the winds rose, they told spectators to leave immediately and go to their cars.

The National Weather Service issued a severe storm warning seven minutes before the show started at 5:30 p.m., and the tent came down about 5:45 p.m. Winds of 55 to 60 mph, with gusts up to 75 mph, were recorded in the area, and Degnan said the storm cut a swath a half-mile to a mile long, taking down some trees as it neared the tent.

Degnan said investigators are talking to spectators and consulting soils experts as well as structural engineers as they try to figure out why the tent fell, killing Robert Young, 41, and his 8-year-old daughter, Annabelle, of Concord, Vermont.

“Robert died a hero trying to save Annabelle,” Trisha Belliveau, the girl’s mother, told WPTZ-TV.

Degnan said Wednesday that the number of injured rose from 32 to more than 50, mostly because several people drove themselves to a doctor and reported their injuries later.

The operator of the circus, Sarasota, Florida-based Walker International Events, said in a statement Wednesday morning on its Facebook page that its staff was shocked by what had happened.

“The entire cast and crew of Walker International Events, Inc. are deeply saddened by the tragic chain of events that occurred in Lancaster, N.H.,” the statement said. “We have been reeling with the shock of these events. Our very deepest condolences and prayers go out to the families whose lives were affected. We cannot begin to express the pain and sadness we feel.”

The company has not returned repeated phone calls and emails seeking an interview. It canceled two shows in Vermont and its remaining eight shows in New Hampshire.

The circus is scheduled to perform six shows in Maine next week: two shows in Sanford on Sunday, and four in Hiram on Monday and Tuesday.

Degnan said his office is investigating whether local officials knew or should have known the show was taking place. The show required a place-of-assembly permit, but one was not sought, Degnan said. State law says that permit should have been issued by town officials and the town would be required to make sure the tent was inspected. The investigation is also looking at how the tent was set up.

“The bottom line is the responsibility lies with the operator,” Degnan said.

He said the circus has been cooperative in the investigation. Asked if having a permit and inspection would have made a difference, Degnan said “It’s hard to say.

“It was a very unusual event with some winds higher than what you’d normally experience and it was a very isolated event,” he said.

Town fire officials and the town clerk’s office referred questions to the fire marshal’s office.

Degnan said authorities will review relevant laws and consult with the county attorney before deciding what, if any, charges could result from the collapse.

Walker’s president, John Caudill Jr., has a history of violations with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, primarily while operating another company, Walker Brothers Circus Inc. Those charges are all related to animal care.

A tent manufacturer said Wednesday that the large tents are designed to withstand high winds as long as they are put up correctly.

“Different tents are engineered to different specifications but almost everything today is engineered to the uniform building code so chances are it was engineered to take a 70 mph wind load,” said Randy McCauley, of Rainier Tents, a Wilsonville, Oregon-based manufacturer of event and other tents.

“It’s the anchoring that gives away,” McCauley said. “Ground conditions are critical when you’re setting a tent. If you’re not paying attention to ground conditions, a tent that isn’t anchored properly and that’s engineered for 70 mph might go over at 40 mph.”

The principal of Annabelle Young’s school said the small community of Concord was rallying around the family. The family has asked for privacy, and a state trooper was parked in front of their house Wednesday.

“They’re a great family. It’s just really tragic when you take kids to have a good time, and this is what happens,” Julie Donahue said Wednesday, her voice breaking with tears.

Donahue set up a page late Tuesday to help the family. As of Wednesday afternoon, almost $9,000 had been raised toward a goal of $10,000.

“Everyone feels really helpless, and we just don’t understand how this could happen,” she said.

Robert Young was a direct-care worker at Common Ground, which provides services for people with intellectual disabilities. Director Mark Vincent said Young was dedicated and cared deeply about clients.

“For him, it was a vocation, not just a job,” Vincent said.

Vincent said Young’s biggest passion was his family and he was never without a photograph of his two daughters.

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