A year after the collapse, a look back

A number of memorial events are planned for Friday

Anna Ewart

While crossing the I-35W bridge, Roman Koyrakh saw a wall of dust shoot up and felt his car jump. He closed his eyes and braced himself.

He knew immediately what had happened.

For a moment, he thought he was going to die, but water splashing against his face spurred him to get out of his car.

One year ago, on Aug. 1, 2007, the bridge collapsed into the Mississippi River, killing 13 people and injuring many others. Koyrakh, a recent University graduate, is one of the survivors.

“As weird as it sounds, I didn’t have time to be really scared,” he said. “In probably five seconds flat I was out of the car. After that, for a good, like, 10 minutes, it was just adrenaline.”

The gravity of the situation hit him as he looked into a pool of water in the center of the bridge. People around him were screaming, and he looked up to see a crowd on the 10th Avenue bridge.”

“I was like ‘God I wish I was up there,’ ” he said.

That night, Koyrakh received stitches and was treated for minor injuries at North Memorial Hospital .

A year later, he still thinks about the collapse regularly and plans to attend public memorial events on the tragedy’s anniversary, this Friday.

The disaster has had a tremendous impact on all kinds of people across the Twin Cities, said Patrick Nunnally , a cultural historian who taught a class about the collapse at the University.

“The reverberation of that went much further than a simple number,” Nunnally said. “It’s a big city, but it’s a city that has some sort of tight connections.”

Apart from costing the region thousands of dollars a day, Nunnally said the collapse has affected how the state and nation view infrastructure.

Federal and state governments have introduced legislation that would put more money toward aging roads and bridges. In the last year, multiple Minnesota bridges have been closed for repair and inspection.

“We got away for a long time with thinking that things weren’t broke,” Nunnally said. “That was the wakeup call. It’s a shame that it cost 13 lives.”

University physiology student Phil Roban, who is also an EMT, was biking nearby when he found out about the collapse. He was one of the first to arrive at the site of the disaster.

Roban said the incident allowed him to use his training, but the scene was overwhelming.

“It was a matter of deciding what to do first,” Roban said. “I feared the worst.”

The disaster also made him realize that our infrastructure isn’t first-rate.

“You take a lot of things for granted,” Roban said, calling the collapse a “spectacular engineering failure.”

Though the new bridge will likely be completed sometime this September or October, construction will stop from 3 to 9 p.m. Friday in observance of the anniversary of the collapse.

Bells will also ring across the city and state after a moment of silence at 6:05 p.m. on Aug. 1, the exact time the bridge fell on that date last year.

This spring, Koyrakh, 21, graduated from the University with a degree in supply chain management. Surviving the collapse, graduating and dealing with the death of a close friend have made this year a “rollercoaster” for him, he said.

He plans to take time off to study in Israel soon. However, he said he would like it if he and other survivors had the option to be the first to cross, or “conquer,” the new bridge once it’s completed.

“I’m not scared of bridges,” Koyrakh said. “I think that would be a cool sense of closure.”