Thursday, August 2, 2007

Bridge Collapse

Our evening was spent in shock last night as we watched live coverage of the tragedy near downtown Minneapolis. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of those affected by this event. The bridge is located very near to where my sister Kirstin lived last year but so far we do not know anyone personally involved with the accident.

This is an email Bryan sent to his family last night (David is his brother):

Since this has turned into the top story even on the BBC World Service, I thought I'd write to let you know that this bridge is not on David's or my commute. (Although, some of my co-workers go over that bridge every day.)

I answered the phone this evening to hear Stacey say "Oh good, you're okay!" I asked "Why do you say that..." When she told me what had happened, I looked out my window to the right, and saw helicopters and a plume of smoke above where the I-35W bridge out of downtown would be. (The bridge is just a little over a mile from my building.) I got off the phone and left to go drive over there.

As I was pulling out, on the radio they said they were asking for anyone who could help out to please show up and volunteer. I got a bit closer before I had to park and go on foot. By the time I got close, they were just starting to string up the yellow police tape and tell people to stay back. I went around on foot and got some pictures on my cellphone, which I will post soon. The bridge, which I drive over frequently (or used to), was just in tatters. A section of it was lying across the middle of a string of train cars that looked like crushed soda cans underneath it. Another section had fallen flat onto the riverbank, still with a few cars strewn on it. Another section writhed in twisting curls out of the surface of the water.

There were an unbelievable number of emergency responders including boats and dive teams that kept showing up the whole time, with markings from several surrounding counties. I happened right by ten construction workers who had been working on the bridge, and were covered with gray dust, as they were being escorted away from the site surrounded by police, who packed them into a van and two other police cars.

As I was driving back to my office, they said on the radio that the mayor and the governor were about to hold a press conference at the county government building, which I was just about to pass, so I got out and went to that just before it started, with about two dozen people there. That was where the mayor first announced that there were at least six dead so far. And he said it would be a long and tragic night; there were dive teams at work, and many of the fifty or so cars that had been on the bridge when it fell had been pitched right into the Mississippi River, which was around sixty feet below the bridge. (As they've reported in the news accounts, the bridge supported a 1,000-foot-long section of an Interstate highway with four lanes in each direction, although two lanes were closed off for construction; and the northbound side was apparently bumper-to-bumper with the rush hour traffic, when the bridge went down.)

They were checking other bridges in the area for any signs of sabotage, just as a precaution, they said on the radio as I drove my homeward commute, which includes a two-mile-long bridge over the Minnesota River and surrounding national wildlife refuge.

A strange evening. Stacey and I talked about how often we have both driven over that bridge, and wondered at what could have caused the collapse. The U of M civil engineering department (based 2/3 of a mile away) inspected it a couple years ago and gave it a clean bill of health good through 2020. There was a construction crew that was ripping up the top of the bridge, but it was supposed to be just to replace the surface and the electrical. Eyewitness accounts gave no indication of anything unusual preceding the collapse like an explosion or a resonant wave. We'll have to see.

1 comment:

  1. Actually, I didn't live by the bridge, but I regularly passed over it on my commute to the U of M. I'm still waiting to hear from some of my friends at the U. One classmate emailed everyone today to say how grateful he was that his boss sent him home early as he passed over the bridge just minutes before it collapsed.