Minneapolis Bridge collapse leaves four dead, at least twenty missing

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Minneapolis I-35W Bridge Collapse 

Hat Tip: By John Krawczynski, AP

MINNEAPOLIS – Divers checked submerged cars in the Mississippi River Thursday for a count the victims still trapped beneath the twisted steel and concrete slabs of a collapsed bridge. As many as 30 people were reported missing as the rescue effort shifted to recovery.

The official death count stood at four Thursday morning, but Police Chief Tim Dolan said more bodies were in the water. Hospital officials counted 79 others injured.

“We have a number of vehicles that are underneath big pieces of concrete, and we do know we have some people in those vehicles,” Dolan said. “We know we do have more casualties at the scene.”

The eight-lane Interstate 35W bridge, a major Minneapolis artery, was in the midst of repairs when the bridge buckled during the evening rush hour Wednesday. Dozens of cars plummeted more than 60 feet into the Mississippi River, some falling on top one of another. A school bus sat on the angled concrete.

Under water, divers were taking down license plate numbers for authorities to track down the vehicles’ owners. Getting the vehicles out was expected to take several days and involve moving around very large, heavy pieces of bridge.

“The bridge is still shifting,” Dolan said. “We’re dealing with the Mississippi River. We’re dealing with currents. We’re going to have to do it slowly and safely.”

He said police estimate that 20 to 30 people were unaccounted for, though he stressed that it was just an estimate.

Minneapolis I-35W Bridge Collapse

At Hennepin County Medical Center, patients had arrived in a steady stream after the collapse, some unconscious or moaning, some barely breathing, others with serious head and back injuries, Dr. William Heegaard said.

“There was blood everywhere,” he said.

Relatives who couldn’t find their loved ones at hospitals gathered in a hotel ballroom Thursday morning for any news, hoping for the best.

“I’ve never wanted to see my brother so much in my life,” said Kristi Foster, who went to an information center set up at a Holiday Inn looking for her brother Kirk. She hadn’t had contact with her brother or his girlfriend, Krystle Webb, since the previous night.

Authorities initially said at least seven people had died, but Police Lt. Amelia Huffman lowered that number Thursday morning, saying, “The medical examiner’s office only has four sets of remains.” She said the initial reports were based on the best estimates authorities had.

As many as 50 vehicles tumbled into the river when the bridge collapsed, leaving those who could escape to scramble to shore. Some survivors carried the injured up the riverbank, while emergency workers tended to others on the ground and some jumped into the water to look for survivors. Fire and black smoke rose from the wreckage.

The Homeland Security Department said the collapse did not appear to be terrorism-related, but Hennepin County Sheriff Richard Stanek said Thursday that the cause was still unknown.

“All indications are that it was a collapse, not an act of someone doing it,” Stanek said.

The first step of the federal investigation will be to recover pieces of the bridge and reassemble them, kind of like a jigsaw puzzle, to try and determine what happened, NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker said.

Investigators also want to review video of the collapse, and were setting up a phone number for witnesses to call with information.

Minneapolis I-35W Bridge Collapse

“It is clearly much too early in the initial stages of this investigation to have any idea what happened,” he said.

The bridge was crowded with traffic, and a train had been passing beneath the roadway at the time it fell. One car carrying a chemical, polystyrene beads, hit the water, but the fire chief said was not particularly hazardous.

As the divers worked their way around at least a dozen submerged vehicles, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters announced a $5 million grant to help pay for rerouting traffic patterns around the disaster site.

“We fully understand what happened and we will take every step possible to ensure something like this will not happen again,” Peters said.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said up to $100 million in federal funds will also be available for rebuilding and recovery.

“A bridge in America just shouldn’t fall down,” Klobuchar said. “That’s why we have called for this investigation.”

In 2005, the 40-year-old bridge had been rated as “structurally deficient” and possibly in need of replacement, according to a federal database. The span rated 50 on a scale of 120 for structural stability in that review, White House press secretary Tony Snow said.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty, however, said Thursday that there was no indication from that and other reviews that the bridge should be shut down. Peters added that “none of those ratings indicated there was any kind of danger.”

This week, road crews had been working on the bridge’s joints, guardrails and lights, with lane closures overnight on Tuesday and Wednesday. In 2001, the bridge had been fitted with a computerized anti-icing system that sprayed chemicals on the surface during winter weather, according to documents posted on the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s Web site.

Wednesday evening, 18 construction workers were on the bridge when it collapsed, said Tom Sloan, head of the bridge division for Progressive Contractors Inc., in St. Michael.

The crew was placing concrete finish on the bridge for what he called a routine resurfacing project. “It was the final item on this phase of the project. Suddenly the bridge gave way,” he said.

“They said they basically rode the bridge down to the water. They were sliding into cars and cars were sliding into them,” he said. One of the workers was unaccounted for, he said.

The school bus had just crossed the bridge when the entire span of Interstate 35W crumpled into the river below. The bus stayed on concrete, and the children were able to escape unharmed out the back door.

Christine Swift’s 10-year-old daughter, Kaleigh, was on the bus, returning from a field trip to Bunker Hills in Blaine. She said her daughter called her about 6:10 p.m.

“She was screaming, ‘The bridge collapsed,'” Swift said. All the kids got off the bus safely, but about 10 of the children were injured, officials said.

The collapsed bridge is just blocks from the heart of Minneapolis, near tourist attractions like the new Guthrie Theater and the Stone Arch Bridge. As the steamy night progressed massive crowds of onlookers circulated in the area on foot or bicycle, some of them wearing Twins T-shirts and caps after departing Wednesday night’s game at the nearby Metrodome early.

Thursday’s game between the Twins and Kansas City Royals was called off, but the Twins decided to go ahead with Wednesday’s rather than sending about 25,000 fans back out onto the congested highways. Inside the stadium, there was a moment of silence to honor victims.

The steel-arched bridge, built in 1967, rose 64 feet above the river and stretched 1,900 feet across the water. It was built with a single 458-foot-long steel arch to avoid the need for piers that might interfere with river navigation.

The river’s depth at the bridge was not immediately available, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains a channel depth of at least 9 feet in the Upper Mississippi to allow for barge traffic.

12 thoughts on “Minneapolis Bridge collapse leaves four dead, at least twenty missing

  1. rikyrah

    What is more ominous..

    That this could be a terrorist attack?

    OR….

    This is the consequence of the wholesale NEGLECT of our infrastructure, and thus, just the beginning.

    Funny how when folks like me talk about rebuilding our infrastructure, it’s called ‘government pork’, but when they want to find $400 billion to fund an illegal war, it’s there.

    Rebuilding our infrastructure with Americans or legal Americans AT MARKET WAGES, would be a win-win for our country.

  2. rikyrah

    When I say beginning…I mean the beginning of a series of horrible incidents like this one, because the infrastructure has been so neglected.

  3. rikyrah,

    I hear you loud and clear. Seems the Governor opposed raising the gas tax which was used for infrastructure improvements and maintenence. “You get what you pay for,” could not ring more true than now. The people responsible for this should be put under the jail.

  4. “Seems the Governor opposed raising the gas tax which was used for infrastructure improvements and maintenence. “You get what you pay for,” could not ring more true than now.”

    I dunno about that one, Skep. I don’t think I could put a tax on an already overpriced commodity either… I’d work to get the money some other way…

  5. Renee

    I live in Minneapolis but I do not take that bridge too often. I was working in the IDS center in downtown Minneapolis at the time and can see the devistation from the office window.
    Say a prayer for the loved ones of those lost or hurt. It is truly awful and even the photos do not do justice.

    thanks

  6. Pingback: Skeptical Brotha
  7. The bridge has been up for 20 some odd years and sometimes things just happened.
    It just seems a little to easy to point blame so that people can feel politically superior.

  8. Ari

    The bridge collaspe isn’t something that “just happened.” There is a history of structural issues dating back at least a decade. It hasn’t been maintained properly, as a large number of bridges across the country. The government doesn’t need to raise taxes to take care of business, however. They just need to stop wasting money. How can you spend money to rebuild another country when your own is falling apart?

  9. Rick

    “When I say beginning…I mean the beginning of a series of horrible incidents like this one, because the infrastructure has been so neglected.”

    Rikyrah and Ari-
    I think you are so right. What’s particularly frightening is that these infrastructural catastrophes can happen ANYWHERE (from a Minneapolis bridge collapse to a midtown NYC street explosion) and at ANYTIME…including during rush hour traffic.
    It’s un-nerving.

  10. Cliff

    “”It is clearly much too early in the initial stages of this investigation to have any idea what happened,” he said.””

    In boxing the amateur who is in training is always fore-warned to “watch for the hook”, or reaction to a jab or punch that the amateur throws. When a boxer throws a punch the trainer tries to instill a natural reaction to “watch for the hook” or “watch for the counter-action to your hook or jab” by your opponent. For example when Floyd Mayweather fought Oscar De La Hoya, Mayweather would jab or hook, then hold his right glove to his right ear, knowing about the devastating left hook of De La Hoya, he was trained to watch for his left hook, after he would throw a punch or jab. With regard to this Minneapolis Bridge incident, the government’s reaction and response is far more extreme than that of the incident of “Hurricane Katrina”, therefore there is always a hidden agenda in a people or government who clearly to not care about the lives of human beings. They may make this incident seem like a jab or hook by the “terrorists” to justify a heavy blow to a particular country by the government. Like with the incident of “9-11”, they set up a supposed attack by the “terrorists” (people who will not bow down to Satan)”, then when they have 99% of the whole world bowing down to their former slave masters, then they justify a counter-action or hook by giving evidence of what was later perceived to be a lie or body of lies, for a counter-action to country which had no clue of Satan’s plans. Satan is such a master of deception he has deceived people till this day, and still has some saying “how come we did not go after the real terrorists, which is Bin Laden”.

    Watch for the hook, after they conclude this “Minneapolis Bridge incident” to be a “terrorist attack”.

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