What was supposed to be a routine autograph session with wrestling star Hulk Hogan turned into an emergency evacuation when the hundreds of people lined up in Hogan's Clearwater Beach shop suddenly felt the building move.
The bandanna-wearing Hogan, whose popularity as a pro wrestler in the 1980s led to what was dubbed "Hulkmania," has been making headlines again lately as the plaintiff in a high-profile $100 million privacy lawsuit against the website Gawker over a sex tape. A St. Petersburg jury was seated to hear the case involving Hogan — whose real name is Terry Bollea — on Friday.
On Saturday, about 500 people had turned out to get an autograph and buy merchandise from Hogan's store in the Pelican Walk Plaza shopping center at 483 Mandalay Ave.
The signing at "the official shop for all your Hulkster gear," was scheduled for noon until 3 p.m. Those attending paid $100 per ticket in advance to get in, and $50 for children 14 and under.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
But at about 12:30 p.m., people in the crowd felt the entire building shift, said Clearwater public information director Joelle Castelli.
"According to Terry, it felt like an earthquake," said Hogan's attorney, David Houston. "You could see some structural change in the building. The support columns that were holding up the second floor separated from the concrete floor, and they were just hanging there."
At that point, Houston said, Hogan realized everyone needed to leave the building as quickly as possible.
"He started leading people across the street and out of danger," Houston said. The crowd remained calm, he said. Soon, the Clearwater fire department showed up and took charge, evacuating the entire two-story strip mall.
Houston speculated the damage may have resulted from workers who were excavating in the back of the shopping center.
"They may have hit something critical to the foundation," the attorney said. "That place probably wasn't built to withstand an earthquake."
Go to tampabay.com for more.