Thursday, August 02, 2007

Six Dead, 41 Injured In 35W Bridge Collapse In Minneapolis

Six people died Wednesday and dozens more were injured when a busy highway bridge that spans the Mississippi River collapsed during rush hour, sending about 50 cars, tons of concrete and twisted metal crashing into the water below. Mayor R.T. Rybak announced the deaths at a news conference Wednesday night. There were no immediate reports on the total number of injured, but Dr. Joseph Clinton, emergency medical chief at Hennepin County Medical Center, said the hospital treated 28 injured people - including six who were critical.
The I-35 W Bridge over the Misssissippi River before the collapse.
Other area hospitals were also seeing victims. Aerial shots from local television stations showed the entire span of Interstate 35W had crumpled into the river below. Some injured people were carried up the riverbank, while emergency workers tended to others on the ground."There were two lanes of traffic, bumper to bumper, at the point of the collapse. Those cars did go into the river," said Minneapolis police Lt. Amelia Huffman. "At this point there is nothing to suggest that this was anything other than a structural collapse."Paul McCabe, a spokesman with the FBI in Minneapolis, said terrorism did not appear to be a factor. "Although it is much too early to make any determination of the cause, we have no reason at this time to believe there is any nexus to terrorism," he said. Brian Turmail, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Transportation, said the department is getting briefed on the collapse, but it was mainly being handed by local agencies."Right now the focus is on saving lives," he said. A school bus had just crossed the bridge before it collapsed. The bus did not go into the water, and broadcast reports indicated the children on the bus exited 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. She said a police officer told her all the kids got off the bus safely. Josetta Ollison, of Minneapolis, said her 4-year-old daughter and 6-year-old niece also were on the bus. "I haven't been able to talk to them, but they tell me they're OK," she said.Gregory Wernick Sr., Rockford, Ill., drove over the bridge just 10 minutes before the collapse. He stopped to get a drink nearby and heard commotion so he went back. "I figure I crossed about 10 minutes before it happened," he said. "That's just too close to call." He's now standing about 200 feet away on top of a parking ramp with large group of people. "I've never seen anything like this," he said.Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., said he spoke with Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, and that both of them along with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., will be flying to the Twin Cities early Thursday. While the focus has to be on emergency response, Coleman said, authorities will have to also set up a transportation system. "Down the road, they will be doing full a forensic analysis to see what caused this," Coleman said. According to Coleman, the bridge had been inspected in 2004.