Thursday, August 2, 2007

Minneapolis bridge collapse

Horror. Horrific. Horrible. Strong words. Emotional words. Yet still not strong enough to convey the shock and pain and death that follows the collapse of the interstate bridge spanning the Mississippi River in Minneapolis.

California. The destruction looks like something you would expect to see in California after an earthquake. California. But it was here in Minneapolis.

Troubling information: a 2005 assessment called the 40-year-old span "structurally deficient" and it was a candidate for replacement according to the Minneapolis Star. A word of caution, the Star-Tribune site loads very slow. Probably slower now with all the interest.

Speaking of news outlets, both CNN and the NY Times were mistaken when they said the bridge linked Minneapolis to St. Paul. Not so. There are many bridges across the Mississippi connecting the Twin Cities, but this was not one of them. Upon entering Minneapolis, Interstate 35 splits into 35W and 35 E and reconnects on the north side of town, much like I-35 around Denton, Tx. This bridge connected north and south Minneapolis on the way to the cabins and lakes Up North.

You can keep up with official engineering info at the Minnesota Department of Transportation site.

We live about two miles from the bridge and would use it often, trusting the steel and concrete to protect us high above the big river.

Two images stand out: The little white car perched on the slab of cement, hanging on for dear life despite the perilous angle. And the resolute woman rescue worker in the water without snorkel, masks, or tanks who repeatedly dove beneath the dark Mississippi to search for survivors in submerged, crushed vehicles.

Like you, we've been glued to the TV, the Internet and the morning newspaper worried about casualties and searching for answers.

Thus far, the only answers are: Horror. Horrific. Horrible.


Anonymous said...

It was indeed a horrible event. It takes me back to our trip to Alaska. We were in Canada and were approaching a High span bridge across a river.About 30 minutes before we got to the bridge,it collapsed and took 6 cars and over 20 people to a watery grave.

Jeff Hebert said...

I remember Al Gore talking about the aging infrastructure problem in America back when he was Vice President. Of course he was laughed at then, but the fact is that we've been terribly negligent in our attention to bridges, roads, tunnels, dams, and other engineering infrastructure in all fifty states. It happened in New Orleans with the levy, and now in Minnesota. I hope we start taking maintenance seriously and being the long, expensive, but vital business of keeping these resources safe.

Anonymous said...

A Tale of Two.....

Two horrific accidents in one week In the Twin Cities are enough to break your heart. I search for some way to express the pain. The coincidental juxtaposition of highway and waterway in the accidents moves me to write in the only way I know how.

Both the Mississippi and I-35 begin at the top of Minnesota about 125 miles from the Canadian border. The River has its headwaters at Lake Itasca on the west side of the state, and the interstate begins on the eastern border with Wisconsin in downtown Duluth on Lake Superior.

I-35 splits into two roads when it comes down from Duluth to reach the northern suburbs of the Twin Cities. One highway becomes 35 East and the other 35 West. 35E slices below-grade right through downtown St. Paul, and 35W barrels through Minneapolis. Some miles south of both Cities, the East and West loops merge in the southern suburbs as I-35 once more.

Meanwhile, the River proceeds through the locks and dams through Minneapolis, then its path turns east through the Port of St. Paul, and finally it joins with the St. Croix River, where it becomes a natural border between southern Minnesota and Wisconsin.

As river and highway leave the state, their paths remain parallel, with only a few twists and turns, for over 1500 miles south. The highway is one of the country’s border-to-border interstates, stretching all the way to Laredo. The mighty Mississip is headed even farther than New Orleans, slicing the country in two and finally flowing into the Gulf.

Is it any wonder people in Minnesota take a bit of pride in the fact that both River and highway start here?

The only two times in their parallel journeys that the River and the interstate have occasion to meet are both back up here in the Twin Cities. 35E crosses high over the River at the communities of Lilydale and Mendota on the southwestern rim of St. Paul. And 35W crosses the River near the University of Minnesota in what’s called “southeast” Minneapolis.

So the Cities are twins in many ways, and that includes our tragedies. In just six days, both the River and interstate have seen calamities that should never have happened, dreadful accidents that will change forever the lives of more people than we can possibly imagine.

On Thursday, July 26, during a brief but violent rainstorm, repairmen Joe Harlow and Dave Yasis were caught unawares and swept away in the downtown St. Paul storm sewer system into the Mississippi. On Friday and Saturday, their bodies were recovered near the Wabasha Bridge, not too far downriver from that other bridge, the one for 35E.

Then during rush hour last night, Wednesday, July 31, the 35W bridge over the Mississippi collapsed near downtown Minneapolis. We watch TV today in grief and horror and wait to hear what caused this to happen and how many deaths have occurred beneath the rubble.

For the 25 years I have lived near Lock and Dam #1, I’ve been an amateur historian of the area. I feel my neighbors, family and I participate in the River’s history by our very presence here. And for those other Twin Citians who died this week and whose presence at the end of their lives has also been known to the River, they are now sadly a part of the river lore as well.

I choose to believe that something of each of them stays with the River. They are now part of it, all the way on its journey to the Gulf of Mexico.


Anonymous said...

LE, I read your words and George's words with a huge lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. I knew you would feel this tragedy in your heart and your soul. I drive over that bridge 4-5 times every week, coming and going from the office to various sites around the city. I am always struck by the beauty of the river, the campus buildings I know so well and the incredible snake of cars and trucks over that bridge. That snake was always moving, with a life of its own. Folks on their way to work, to lunch, to visit family, to home and dinner. To think that I was due to cross that bridge three times today in the course of my business leaves me with a sick feeling. I was lucky. My friend at work crossed the bridge 5 minutes before it collapsed; she started to shake when she realized that she had missed the horror by a mere few minutes. I heard stories from all corners from my workplace, which is very near to this lifeline of our city. Near misses, thankful prayers. I am heading up 35E to the North Shore; I plan to toast to life when I am there. gym

John said...

Our saving grace is that Minnesotans are natural fighters and born survivors. The human decency and tireless work ethic of the region will sustain even this horrible tragedy.

I may live in California but my heart is in Minneapolis.

God bless Minnesota.

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