One of the most-traveled freeways in the Twin Cities -- a span over the Mississippi River -- collapsed about an hour ago. At the time, the highway had bumper-to-bumper traffic in the middle of rush hour, and dozens of cars have gone into the river or been caught in the rubble:
The Interstate Hwy. 35W bridge over the Mississippi River collapsed during the evening rush hour Wednesday, dumping at least eight cars and a truck into the water and onto the land below, creating a horrific scene of damage, fire, smoke, injuries, frantic rescuers and terrified motorists.
It was not clear how many people might be hurt or killed, but witnesses said at least 20 cars were involved.
The crumpled green wreckage of the bridge lay on the east bank of the river, and a huge section of concrete roadway lay on the west bank. Down below in the river gorge, rescue workers scrambled to help people on the roadway that now lay in the gorge. Fires burned and black smoke rose billowed the wreckage.
I have spent the last half-hour finding my son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter. They're OK, and now we have to wait to see who isn't. I'll be updating this as more details become available.
7:18 PM CT: No fatalities yet, but some of the injured have gone to Hennepin County Meical Center.
7:25 - A safety engineer who had no involvement in the bridge noted that it had some minor cracking in 2001, but it had been given a clean bill of health both then and in 2006. The state had been doing some work on the deck, but nothing that should have disturbed the structure of the bridge.
7:29 - A school bus for a youth group is on the bridge. The word is that some of them were injured, but that all of them made it out of the bus. The bus is adjacent to a truck whose cab is obviously crushed, and that looks very bad indeed.
KSTP reports that the people on the bridge who were uninjured did not run off the bridge -- they went from car to car to look for the injured and give them assistance.
7:40 - At WCCO, a witness says that there are "quite a few deceased," which doesn't surprise me, considering the extent of the collapse. The link takes you to a slideshow of the collapse; I'm not sure of the source.
7:45 - John Hinderaker notes that he's been on that bridge hundreds if not thousands of times. I've been on it dozens of times myself; if you drive through Minneapolis, you can hardly avoid it. Michelle Malkin also notes that the Department of Transportation will have a press conference at 8:40 local time.
I agree with John on another point -- bridges like these don't collapse in the US, especially when they're only 40 years old. It's hard to say what could have brought it down, but hopefully the DoT will have more information.
7:53 - The choppers have been ordered out of the area; we're going to get severe thunderstorms blowing through the city, right over the collapse. The timing could not possibly be worse. Rescue workers cannot operate in the river while lightning remains a danger.
8:01 - HCMC is about to hold a press conference in a few moments. It sounds like they will have some word on injuries, and perhaps on fatalities, too. CNN apparently is reporting three deaths so far.
8:07 - US Internet has unlocked their Wi-Fi in the Minneapolis area so that people can contact their families. Kudos to them for their community spirit.
8:14 - One confirmed fatality at HCMC, six critical cases out of sixteen brought there. The one death was a drowning.
8:19 - One thing that people need to keep in mind about the Twin Cities is how small they are, comparatively speaking to other major cities. Combined, the two cities only have a population of 650,000, and the entire metro area is only 2.5 million people. Given the likely number of people injured and perhaps killed in this tragedy, this will touch many, many families here in this area.
8:30 - The DHS says they have no indication at all that this could be terrorism:
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security in Washington said there was no indication of terrorism in the disaster.
"There is no indication of a nexus to terrorism at this time," department spokesman Russ Knocke said.
I didn't think it was. No one mentioned any explosions, and we've heard plenty from witnesses. I'd almost wonder if we had some sort of earthquake, or whether a barge hit one of the supports in the river.
8:36 - Noah at Blanked Out was there; the bridge was right by his house. He said the bridge went down "so very slowly". Glad Noah's OK.
9:01 - Still waiting for a DoT briefing. Our friends at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, where the First Mate has had three transplants, handled 33 patients with no fatalities, and most were walk-ins. So far, we've only heard one confirmed drowning, but with the number of cars in the river, I think we can expect more drownings.
Also, Senator Norm Coleman spoke with the Secretary of Transportation, who says the last federal inspection of the bridge was in 2004. This bridge formed part of Interstate 35W, which means that the federal government has oversight over bridge maintenance as well.
9:12 - Mayor R.T. Rybak told WCCO that six people have died. That number is still not confirmed, nor is anyone thinking it will be final.
9:15 - Here is the abstract from the March 2001 report on the bridge, which can be seen here in its original state; note that the bridge did not have river supports, so the barge theory would not be applicable here (h/t CQ commenter LifeTrek). Interesting excerpt:
Researchers monitored the strain gages while trucks with known axle weights crossed the bridge under normal traffic. Researchers then developed two-and three-dimensional finite-element models of the bridge, and used the models to calculate the stress ranges throughout the deck truss. The bridge's deck truss has not experienced fatigue cracking, but it has many poor fatigue details on the main truss and floor truss system. The research helped determine that the fatigue cracking of the deck truss is not likely, which means that the bridge should not have any problems with fatigue cracking in the foreseeable future. As a result, Mn/DOT does not need to prematurely replace this bridge because of fatigue cracking, avoiding the high costs associated with such a large project.
One construction worker remains unaccounted, WCCO reports now.
9:34 - James Lileks is keeping an eye on the updates as well, and contributing his own unique voice to the coverage. Best point: "Sixty children on the bus. Sixty children alive. There’s chance, and there’s miracles. Take your choice."
9:36 - Did I tell you how I first found out about this? My father called me from California, where he caught the breaking news bulletin. That set off a round of frantic calls, trying to find my son and his family, who live nearby and use that bridge often. It took a very long half-hour to find them, but it ended well for us. We're praying for those who won't be as lucky.
9:38 - One more point about the construction work that was being done -- it's very routine stuff for the Twin Cities. We joke out here that we have two seaons, winter and Road Construction. The ravages of ice, snow, gravel, and salt have to be remedied on a regular basis. That kind of work would almost certainly not have created the kind of failure we saw today.
10:08 - Norm Coleman's on KSTP now. As soon as he found out about it, he started reaching out to the DoT and NTSB, and making arrangements to come out here. He wants to see a "full forensic review" into the collapse immediately. He confirmed that the 2004 inspection showed no problems, and that the annual reviews since raised no red flags. The NTSB will handle the federal review; it's the same agency that investigates airplane crashes.
10:27 - The first responder press conference is going on now. Nothing unexpected; they have a lot of resources applied to the crisis, and gave out a number of ways to access it. They still think they can find survivors, but "the likelihood is getting slim". They also have to watch that debris floating downriver doesn't damage other bridges that do have supports in the water.
10:34 - Seven people confirmed dead so far, and they expect that number to increase. KSTP has a former transportation secretary saying that 40-50% of the bridges here in Minnesota have significant deficiencies. On that happy note, I'll call it a night.