City Moves Into Recovery Mode in Aftermath of I-35W Bridge Collapse in Minneapolis

Aug. 2, 2007
With rescue possibilities exhausted, Minneapolis firefighters are now in the recovery phase at the site of the deadly Interstate 35W bridge collapse.

Specially trained crews along with structural engineers, divers and other recovery experts have begun checking approximately 50 vehicles that were submerged in the Mississippi River following the accident, which happened at 6:05 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 1.

Minneapolis authorities have confirmed four deaths, with more than 60 other victims transported to Twin Cities hospitals, many with serious or critical injuries. Officials warned that the number of fatalities is expected to climb once all the vehicles are thoroughly searched.

At a news conference hours after the collapse, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty praised the extraordinary rescue efforts made by local, state and federal agencies who joined Minneapolis fire and police departments.

“Our heartfelt grief goes out to the families and loved ones of those who perished in [the] I-35W bridge collapsed over the Mississippi River,” said Rybak. “The impact of this tragic disaster is felt by every resident of Minneapolis as we pray for those lost to this terrible accident.

“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,” he added. “Their dedication and service will not be forgotten.”

Both Rybak and Pawlenty said they’re closely monitoring the operation, and that state and federal investigators will begin a thorough investigation of the disaster once the city’s recovery phase is curtailed.

“This is a catastrophe of historic proportions for Minnesota,” said Pawlenty. “We want to say to the families who are being impacted by this that our hearts and prayers are with you. But we also want to make sure that you know we are doing everything we can to make sure that we respond as quickly as we can to the needs of this emergency.”

Twin Cities Red Cross is coordinating information on the victims. Concerned family members who want to check on the welfare of relatives should go to the Twin Cities Red Cross Web site at http://www.redcrosstc.org. Due to an extremely high volume of phone calls, the Red Cross is experiencing difficulties with their phone system.

The Bridge Began to Rock

Commuters heading home from work on Aug. 1 across the I-35W bridge, which is 40 years old and spans eight lanes, were tumbled about as the six-story structure began to “rock” and “shake,” according to eyewitnesses and victims.

As many as 50 cars plunged into the Mississippi River as three of the bridges four sections buckeld and collapsed, and approximately 20 people still are unaccounted for. The bridge, which was undergoing repairs when the collapse occurred, carries as many as 140,000 cars a day between Minneapolis and its northern suburbs. Several years ago, the bridge was deemed “structurally deficient” in a federal highway inspection.

Mayor Rybak said he is “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 this disaster.”

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) deployed a Go Team to Minneapolis to investigate the collapse of the bridge. Gary Van Etten has been designated investigator-in-charge of the seven-member team and NTSB Chairman Mark V. Rosenker is accompanying the team and serving as principal spokesman for the on-scene investigation.

Investigation Could Take a Year

The NTSB has estimated its investigation could take as long as a year to complete. Rebuilding the bridge, a main artery in and out of the city, could take as long as 2 years.

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers' 2005 Report Card for America's Infrastructure, ibetween 2000 and 2003 more than one-quarter (27 percent) of the nation's 590,750 bridges were rated “structurally deficient” or “functionally obsolete.”ASCE estimates it will cost $9.4 billion a year for 20 years to eliminate all bridge deficiencies. According to a statement released by ASCE, “Long-term underinvestment is compounded by the lack of a federal transportation program.”

How to Help

Those who want to help are asked to donate to the Red Cross (612) 460-3700 or visit American Red Cross Web site at http://www.redcrosstc.org.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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