‘Something Really Went Wrong’

Minneapolis pulls through a disaster of huge proportions

At about 6:05 p.m. last Wednesday, the eight-lane Interstate 35W bridge over the Mississippi River, about five blocks northwest of campus, collapsed.

Since the accident, authorities have confirmed the deaths of five people and said eight are missing. More than 100 people were injured when the middle section of the 1,907-foot-long span plunged more than 50 feet into the river.

Local, state and federal agencies are working together on recovery efforts and will move forward with a cooperative investigation into the cause of the catastrophic failure.

Navy and FBI officials’ diving operations have begun at the site. The teams bring with them a slew of technologies, like cameras and an unmanned submarine. The vehicle has sonar, lights, a camera and a grabbing arm which will be used to investigate the collapse site.

Members of the University community were among the first to reach the collapse site.

Meagan O’Brien, 25, of Minneapolis, was with her boyfriend in his apartment near 10th Avenue and University Avenue Southeast.

She said she heard an “incredible rumble.”

“I don’t know what I believed, but Armageddon is here,” she said.

She and her boyfriend ran to the scene to aid in rescue efforts, and O’Brien estimated the two were helping people off the collapsed bridge and out of the water within two minutes.

“People were trapped in cars,” she said. “We helped haul them out of the way so they wouldn’t get crushed.”

For a while, O’Brien sat with a woman pinned in her car near one end of the bridge. “We were essentially at the wall of the ravine,” O’Brien said. “We were on the embankment and it was rock and sand. Ö She just kept saying ‘I was almost across, I was almost across.’ “

O’Brien applauded the response of local rescue workers.

“We were there almost instantly,” O’Brien said. “But there were already rescue workers down there Ö It’s always chaotic with things like this, but the City of Minneapolis did a timely and efficient job trying to get people out.”

She said she saw injuries including many broken legs and there was much concern about spinal injuries.

“One guy had his ear ripped off,” she said.

The National Transportation Safety Board said it could take as long as 18 months to complete its investigation into why one of Minnesota’s busiest bridges collapsed into the river. They will use high-tech software to simulate removing key support structures to see how the bridge reacts.

According to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, 141,000 vehicles used the bridge daily.

State officials said they hope to be able to have the bridge rebuilt by the end of 2008. Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Sunday the rebuilding costs could be as high as $350 million. The cleanup is expected to cost as much as $15 million.

-Mitch Anderson, Emily Banks, Tiffany Clements, Marni Ginther, Jake Grovum, Kelly Gulbrandson, Justin Horwath, Karlee Weinmann, Heather Mueller and The Associated Press contributed to this report.