August 3, 2007

Have You Seen My Wife, Mr. Jones?

Our community suffered a terrible blow this week when the I-35W bridge over the Mississippi collapsed on Wednesday afternoon. So far, we know of six people who have died, and the latest count of the missing portends at least another eight deaths. Dozens were injured, some critically, and the healing process will take years.

One of the comforts we have taken from the tragedy has been the remarkable heroism of our first responders -- police, fire, and paramedics -- as well as the ordinary citizens who risked their lives to rescue others when every instinct told them to run away. Their example has helped unify our community and exemplify the American impulse of individual effort and volunteerism. On the heels of that comes word that these heroes carried an additional burden -- taking the last words of the dying to their families:

The first moments after the Interstate 35W bridge collapse were harrowing - both for the victims and for those trying desperately to rescue them.

"There's people pinned, severely injured. We couldn't move them," said Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan. "It was an obviously dangerous situation, (with) stuff still falling.

"The decision was made to leave them."

Some were trapped and dying - and little could be done, Dolan said.

"In one case, someone with serious injuries was able to say goodbye to his family," he said, and rescue workers promised to take the message back to loved ones.

It happened more than once, said Dave Hildebrandt, a paramedic supervisor from Hennepin County Medical Center who was at the scene.

"Some of the medics did witness people that died in front of them, a lot of children crying, a lot of chaos, a lot of disbelief," he said.

It's yet another heartbreaking episode in a tragedy that has left us raw here in the Twin Cities. We know about their valiant efforts to find the living and bring them to safety. Now we know that they had to do that as well as minister to those whom they could not rescue, who had to be left behind to die alone in the river.

It's absolutely heartbreaking. Not only for the families who lost their loved ones, but it's heartbreaking for the men and women who fought like hell to save everyone they could. Those last moments will haunt them, probably for the rest of their lives, despite laying their lives on the line like they did. This community will need to rally around them for the long haul.

Note: The title of this post refers to the first line of the chorus in the Bee Gees song, "New York Mining Disaster 1941", which appears to capture this moment better than anything else I know.


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Comments (4)

Posted by Sue | August 3, 2007 10:41 AM

May every single first reponder, volunteer, helper also remember that if it were not for them, how many more would have died. An awful tragedy like this reminds us that we are human and subject to the very best life offers and the very worst. That those that died might have had a moment to say a few words to others and themselves or think last thoughts is something to be remembered. Too often too many don't get a chance to say good-bye. May their God's rest their souls.

Posted by brooklyn | August 3, 2007 12:45 PM

Very sad.


could have been avoided, and yet, one never knows...

Posted by filistro | August 3, 2007 12:45 PM

Ed, or anybody else who lives in the area...

I have begun noticing something odd about casualty numbers and local reactions.

We're now hearing a total of about a dozen missing and deceased, but more than 50 cars in the river. So there must have been dozens more who escaped from their submerged cars, making their way to safety through deadly tangles of rubble and debris.

Yet when I watch CNN (as much as I can bear to do so) there is none of what you would expect... the ceaseless parade of victims recounting their harrowing dramatic stories. In fact I've only seen one or two in all this time.

Is this just part of the Minnesota mindset... a stubborn privacy, and a quiet, stoic refusal to put their tragedy on display for public consumption?

Maybe I'm reading more into this than is there. If it's true, though, I think it would be heartening.

Posted by Laura M. | August 3, 2007 1:29 PM

"Is this just part of the Minnesota mindset... a stubborn privacy, and a quiet, stoic refusal to put their tragedy on display for public consumption?"

Speaking as a native Minnesotan, you are correct. We will gather our loved ones close and grieve our losses, but we prefer not to make a public spectacle about it.

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