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At least 7 dead after Minneapolis bridge collapses

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Cars were strewn on the collapsed portion of the Interstate 35W bridge, which stretches between Minneapolis and St. Paul, after it collapsed Wednesday into the Mississippi River during evening rush hour.
(BRANDI JADE THOMAS ~ Pioneer Press, www.twincities.com)
MINNEAPOLIS -- An interstate bridge jammed with rush-hour traffic suddenly broke into huge sections and collapsed into the Mississippi River on Wednesday, pitching dozens of cars 60 feet into the water and killing at least seven people.

The eight-lane Interstate 35W bridge, a major Minneapolis artery, was in the midst of being repaired and had several lanes closed when it crumbled.

"There were two lanes of traffic, bumper to bumper, at the point of the collapse. Those cars did go into the river," Minneapolis Police Lt. Amelia Huffman said. "At this point there is nothing to suggest that this was anything other than a structural collapse."

Jamie Winegar of Houston said she was sitting in traffic when all of a sudden she started hearing "boom, boom, boom and we were just dropping, dropping, dropping, dropping."

The car she was riding in landed on top of a smaller car but did not fall into the water. She said her nephew yelled, "'It's an earthquake!' and then we realized the bridge was collapsing."

Mayor R.T. Rybak said at least six people were killed. 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 in critical condition.

Other hospitals also were treating the injured. Clinton said at least one of the victims had drowned.

The arched bridge, which was built in 1967, rises about 64 feet above the river. An estimated 50 vehicles plunged into the water and onto the land below, the Star-Tribune reported.

A burning truck and a school bus clung to one slanted slab. The bus had just crossed the bridge before it crumpled into pieces, 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 suburban 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 children got off the bus safely.

Dozens of vehicles were scattered and stacked on top of each other amid the rubble. Some people were stranded on parts of the bridge that weren't completely in the water.

Melissa Hughes, 32, of Minneapolis said she was driving home across the bridge when she went down when the western edge in the collapse.

"You know that free fall feeling? I felt that twice," said Hughes, who was not injured.

A pickup ended up on top of her car, partially crushing the top and back end.

"I had no idea there was a vehicle on my car," she said. "It's really very surreal."

Many motorists could have been headed to the Minnesota Twins game scheduled not far from the bridge, but the game was postponed, team president Dave St. Peter said.

Ramon Houge told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that he was on his way home from work on the bridge when he heard a rumbling noise, saw the ground collapse and cars go down.

Traffic was bumper to bumper and hundreds of people would have been involved, he said. He said cars backed up as best they could and he parked in a construction zone and was finally able to turn around and drive off the bridge. "It didn't seem like it was real," he said.

Local television stations captured video of injured people being carried up the riverbank. There was no official word on injuries, but dozens of rescue vehicles were there. Divers were also in the water.

Workers have been repairing the 40-year-old bridge's surface as part of improvements along that stretch of the interstate, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported on its Web site.

Homeland Security Department spokesman Russ Knocke also said the collapse did not appear to be terrorism-related.

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