Interstate Bridge Collapses Into Mississippi River in Minneapolis

By Joe Kimball and Elizabeth Williamson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, August 2, 2007

MINNEAPOLIS, Aug. 1 -- An eight-lane highway bridge clogged with rush-hour traffic buckled and collapsed into the Mississippi River in central Minneapolis on Wednesday evening, pitching numerous vehicles into the roiling water below. At least seven people were killed and dozens were injured, authorities said.

Emergency officials said the toll could rise as rescuers, hampered by burning cars and hunks of broken roadway, scoured the debris-clogged river for survivors. The Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper reported that 20 people were still missing late Wednesday night, and that officials said efforts had switched from rescue to recovery.

"This is a catastrophe of historic proportions for Minnesota," said Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R). "We are doing everything we can to make sure we respond as quickly as we can to this emergency."

It was not immediately clear what caused the Interstate 35W bridge to break apart. Pawlenty said the structure had been undergoing "cosmetic" repairs, including resurfacing and guardrail and lighting replacement.

Witnesses described a lamppost-shaking rumble at 6:05 p.m. Central time as the concrete-and-steel structure rippled from south to north and then broke apart, its 458-foot-long central section plunging from more than 60 feet into the greenish water.

As massive swaths of concrete sheared off, vehicles on the bridge fell. Some of them plunged into the water, while others, including a school bus, came to rest on slanted sections of pavement at the clifflike edge of the r oadway. Several of the vehicles caught fire and one tractor-trailer was cut in half.

At least one person drowned. Rescue officials said many of the survivors were seriously wounded.

Minneapolis emergency official Don Stickney said some lanes of the 40-year-old bridge were closed for "general maintenance," which may have reduced the number of casualties. Regardless, he said, "this would have been the busiest time of the day."

One witness, Heather Munro, said she heard a sound "like a wrecking ball hitting a concrete building." Turning in the direction of the sound, she said she saw a plume of dust rising above the tree line.

"It looked like complete total structural failure," said Munro, 40, of Minneapolis. "There was twisted metal everywhere."

Gazing down the embankment alongside the river, she spotted an injured man next to two sport-utility vehicles, one on top of the other. The man, his face streaming blood, was struggling to get up, but his right leg was askew as if broken, she said. About 300 feet away, she saw a woman climb out of the sunroof of her red Jeep.

"It was so surreal," Munro said. "She was carrying her purse. She had her arms open in a 'What the heck?' gesture. It was just total bewilderment. She must have been in shock."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company