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Minneapolis Bridge Collapse Leaves Seven Dead, Many Missing

Aug 2, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP

A bridge on Interstate 35W that collapsed and fell into the Mississippi River near Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota last night left seven dead and more than 20 people missing.  Sixty-two people were taken to area hospitals after the Minneapolis Bridge collapsed, and rescue officials expect to find more dead today as recovery efforts continue.

The collapse of the four-lane West I-35 Bridge occurred at 6:05 p.m., the height of rush hour in the Twin Cities.  Witnesses said that there were between 50 and 100 cars on the bridge at the time of collapse.   A section of the Minneapolis bridge was lying in the middle of the Mississippi River, and dazed and injured commuters were stranded on the section that was not submerged.  At least 50 vehicles were in the water, and several were on fire.  The area was strewn with chunks of concrete and torn metal.  Boats were used to bring victims ashore, and divers were searching the area.  By late Wednesday night, no other victims had been pulled from the Mississippi alive.   The search and recovery mission was also called off late Wednesday when the river was deemed too dangerous for divers.  Teams began what they were calling a “recovery” mission this morning.

The I-35 Bridge was one of the most heavily traveled corridors in the Twin Cities.  It is near the University of Minnesota campus, as well as the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.  In fact, many of those on the bridge were on their way to the Metrodome for a baseball game that was scheduled to start shortly after 7 p.m.   

Witnesses who saw the bridge collapse said that it happened suddenly.  Tapes from a security camera were obtained by one television network showed the north end of the bridge falling first, followed by the southern end.  The center of the bridge was in the water in less than four seconds.  

A team from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) was expected to arrive in the Twin Cities today to begin their investigation.  A former NTSB official told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that investigators will look first at fatigue cracking or vibration as the cause of the bridge collapse.   He said that investigators will spend a great deal of time examining wreckage and looking through maintenance and inspection records.

At a news conference last evening, Minnesota transportation officials said that the deck of the 40-year-old bridge was scheduled to be replaced in 2020.  No structural problems turned up in an inspection of the bridge in 2005, although an evaluation in 2001 did show some fatigue problems on the ramp leading to the bridge.  The bridge had been under repair, and crews were actually working on it when it collapsed, but officials said those repairs were “cosmetic”.  The work involved concrete repair and replacement of guardrails and lights.  

Officials said that of the 62 people taken to area hospitals, some were in critical condition.  Many of them had suffered multiple traumas.  With anywhere from 20 to 30 people missing, rescue officials said that they expected the death toll to rise today.


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