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At least nine performers were seriously injured Sunday during a high-wire circus act in Providence, R.I., officials said.

Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare said it was unclear exactly what happened and that local authorities were investigating.

The New England Cable News, citing city fire officials, said a high wire snapped. The Associated Press said eight fell from a platform and another performer on the ground also was seriously injured.

The Providence Journal saidseveral additional people may have been less seriously injured in the accident shortly before noon. The paper said the performance was halted and a Sunday afternoon scheduled performance was canceled.

The Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus was performing at the Dunkin' Donuts Center.

"Clearly something went very wrong with this apparatus," said Stephen Payne, a spokesman for Feld Entertainment.

Payne said the metal-frame apparatus from which the performers were hanging came free from a metal truss. The eight women fell 25 to 40 feet, landing on a dancer on the ground.

He said the fate of future shows would be determined by an investigation that the circus has begun.

"The safety of our performers is the number one priority," he said.

Roman Garcia, general manager of Ringling's Legends tour, told the Journal the accident occurred an act where eight women form a human chandelier hanging by their hair.

"Everybody's conscious. Everybody's doing well," he said. "We ask everybody to pray for the girls."

Othello Smith told the Journal that his family left the building shortly after the accident — before the show was canceled — because they didn't want their young children watching the aftermath. "One of the performers was crying," he said. "It looked pretty bad."

Smith said the performers were spinning on ropes or cables when they fell.

"They just dropped," he said. "It happened so fast you didn't really believe it happened."

Contributing: Associated Press

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