Highway bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota, collapses

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Thursday, August 2, 2007

Collapse of the I-35W Bridge
I-35W bridge before collapsing.

The Interstate 35W Mississippi River eight-lane bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota has collapsed on both sides of the highway over the Mississippi River during rush hour.

Previous reports indicated at least nine people had died, but Minneapolis police revised this to four during a 7:30 a.m. (local time) press conference. Tim Dolan, the Minneapolis Police Chief later stated that "several [adding to the four] people are confirmed dead at the scene," but would not elaborate on how many. At least 79 have been injured and at least 8 are still missing, still believed to be in the rubble.

The road was busy with bumper-to-bumper traffic in four lanes when the entire 1907 foot (581 m) steel arch bridge collapsed. At least 50 cars were traveling on the bridge, including a school bus. The Red Cross said that 60 children were aboard a school bus, and that ten of those were admitted to a hospital.

Map with red highlighting the collapsed I-35W bridge.
Image: Robinson Telephone Co. of the Nat. Cap. Area, Arlington, VA .

The entire length of the bridge over the river collapsed at 6:05 p.m. CDT (UTC-5). The bridge, built in 1967, cleared the water level by 64 feet; the deck surface and pavement were considerably higher.

Reports say that people may be trapped in the water. Further, "many voids may contain survivors, but we cannot search those voids until it's safe," said Jim Clack, Minneapolis Fire Chief, during a press conference.

"One has died from drowning," said a doctor from the medical center during an 8:00 pm press conference, who also said that so far 22 are in "yellow condition" and at least six are in "critical condition."

Military helicopter and airboat on 10th Avenue bridge next to collapsed bridge.

Minneapolis officials have stated during an earlier press conference that "people are being sent downtown and all survivors are off the bridge. We are seeking help from the Red Cross." and "[...]at least 60 children are receiving trauma care some with severe injures, some with minor injuries."

Green girders from collapsed I-35W bridge jut up from Mississippi River.

Most of the injured have been received by Hennepin County Medical Center in downtown Minneapolis for medical treatment. Area hospitals are requesting all off duty staff and all Minneapolis ambulances to report. Residents are being encouraged to stay away from the area to let emergency crews do their work.

It is not known what caused the collapse, but there was construction being performed on the bridge's road surface which included the use of jackhammers and the FBI has ruled out terrorism.

"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," said Paul McCabe, an FBI spokesman.

View across top of bridge

In 2001 a stress inspection was done and Minnesota Department of Transportation stated that the bridge "should not have any problems with fatigue cracking in the foreseeable future."

Typically an eight-lane bridge, the bridge was reduced to four lanes (two in each direction) during the current construction. The Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT) had just announced overnight lane reductions on the bridge to one lane in each direction for the late evening hours of July 31 and August 1.

Mayor's Statement

R. T. Rybak, the Mayor of Minneapolis, has issued a statement, posted on the front page of his website saying, "Our heartfelt grief goes out to the families and loved ones of those who perished in tonight's I-35W bridge collapsed [sic] over the Mississippi River. The impact of this tragic disaster is felt by every resident of Minneapolis as we pray for those lost to this terrible accident.

Collapsed I-35W bridge in Mississippi River, August 1, 2007. Two rescue boats are visible through dam arch, with concrete carts near cars on bridge deck. View is from the Stone Arch Bridge across the lower St. Anthony Falls dam, with the 10th Street Bridge in background.

"We are deeply grateful to Minneapolis' brave emergency first responders who risked their lives to immediately respond to this disaster and rescue those caught in the collapse. Their dedication and service will not be forgotten.

"I am directing every available City resource to guarantee that our emergency response teams work to ensure that nearby infrastructure, streets and bridges are safe. We will also work with our state and federal partners to complete a full and thorough investigation into the cause off [sic] this disaster."

U.S. President and Transportation Secretary remarks

United States President George W. Bush said in a press conference at 10:50 a.m. (eastern time), "I understand what it is like to carry the burden of grieving people. We are in prayer for those who suffered. I thank my fellow citizens for helping those who are suffering. We in the federal government must respond and respond robustly to help the people there not only recover but to make sure that lifeline of activity, that bridge, gets rebuilt as quickly as possible."

Mary E. Peters, the Secretary of Transportation, arrived in the Minneapolis area to survey the damage caused by the collapse.

"We will take every step possible to make sure something like this will never happen again," said Peters who also stated that at least US$5 million is set aside to clean up the wreckage and to help with rebuilding the flow of traffic in the area. Peters later signed off on an advisory to the Federal Highway Administration. It urges state transportation departments to do inspections on bridges, similar to the one which just collapsed in Minneapolis.

Detour Routes Announced

The Minnesota Department of Transportation is urging commuters to follow signed detours around the collapsed bridge. The official detour will be to use Minnesota Highway 280 and Interstate 94 to bypass the damaged section of Interstate 35W. Highway 280 will be temporarily converted to freeway operation by closing the intersection at Broadway Ave. and County Road B and green lighting all highway 280 traffic through that intersection. Interstate 35W will be closed between the Mississippi River and Stinson/New Brighton Blvd. The northbound lanes of 35W north of Interstate 94 will also be closed.

Bus service altered

Metro Transit announced that extra buses will be added north of Minneapolis due to the altered traffic situation. Additional buses will run from 6 am to 9 am at the following park-and-ride locations:

  • Foley Boulevard in Coon Rapids (between Coon Rapids Blvd. and East River Rd. near Hwy. 610), served by Routes 850 and 852.
  • Maplewood Mall (near Beam and Southlawn avenues), served by Route 270
  • Northtown Shopping Center in Blaine (at 85th and Jefferson), served by Routes 824, 852 and 854
  • 63rd Avenue/County Road 81 (Bottineau Blvd.) in Brooklyn Center, served by Routes 758 and 767
  • Rosedale Shopping Center in Roseville, served by Route 260
  • Roseville City Hall (County Rd. C and Civic Center Dr.)./Grace Lutheran Church (Hamline Ave. at County Rd. B2), served by Route 261.

Minnesota Twins

A baseball game between the Minnesota Twins and the Kansas City Royals was minutes from starting when the nearby bridge collapsed. Because most of the fans were already at the stadium, it was decided to play the game because releasing thousands of cars would greatly interfere with the numerous rescue vehicles at work in the area. There was a moment of prayer held before the Wednesday game and fans were encouraged to stay off their cell phones. Most of the rescue work had been completed before the game ended. Thursday's Twins-Royals game, as well as the ceremonial ground-breaking for their new ball park, have been postponed due to the collapse. Minneapolis officials earlier stated the "Metrodome is safe."

I-35W Mississippi River bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota, before and after its collapse.
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The American Red Cross has asked all those willing to give blood or assist to please contact the Twin Cities Red Cross through their websiteor by calling either +1-651-291-4680, or +1-651-332-7000.

According to the City of Minneapolis web site, to get information about victims, concerned family members should leave a message at (612) 871-7676.


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