An Interstate highway bridge in downtown Minneapolis loaded with rush-hour traffic dropped more than 60 feet into the Mississippi River on Wednesday night, sending at least 50 vehicles and passengers into the water.
Chief Jim Clack of the Minneapolis Fire Department said at least seven people were killed and more than 60 were injured. The Star Tribune of Minneapolis, citing the State Patrol, reported that 20 people were missing.
“This is a catastrophe of historic proportions for Minnesota,” Gov. Tim Pawlenty said at a news conference about three hours after the collapse.
The eight-lane bridge on Interstate 35, the main north-south route through Minneapolis, was being repaired at the time, and an eyewitness told MSNBC that he had heard a jackhammer being used on the roadway just before the collapse at about 6 p.m. Witnesses said the bridge, which was built in 1967, collapsed in three sections. One section of the bridge lay flat in the river, with cars parked on the rolling pavement.
The collapsed section of the bridge, which was about 1,000 feet long, had been supported by a steel truss structure. Repairs were being made to the bridge’s concrete deck, guard rails and lights, state officials said.
Divers and rescue boats continued to search the river and the twisted wreckage of the bridge, with darkness setting in and rain beginning to fall. The Star Tribune reported that some people were seen floundering in the river, calling for help.
Leah R. Fulin, 16, of Minneapolis, had just crossed the bridge and was on the Washington Avenue exit when it collapsed behind her.
“Most of the cars that were on the bridge went into the river,” she said. “There was a whole bunch of smoke when concrete breaks like that. There were people screaming.”
Janet Stately was returning from Duluth, Minn., and decided to take an adjacent bridge to avoid traffic when the collapse occurred.
“I heard an awful noise and saw what looked to me like a piece of the freeway just going down flat,” Stately said. Then she said she saw the road collapse into a V and cars rolling into the river. “I clearly recall horns honking. I was screaming. We were trying to call 911 on our cell phones.”
Television pictures showed a school bus on one section of the collapsed slab, but the back door was open and no passengers were visible. Red Cross officials said 60 children were taken off the bus, 10 of whom had injuries that were treated at city hospitals. A column of smoke curled up from a tractor-trailer near the bus. “I saw a lot of crying,” Courtney Johnson of the Red Cross told CNN. “Some of the older children were comforting the younger children.” The children were 4 to 12 or 13 years in age, Johnson estimated.
Dr. Joseph Clinton, chief of emergency medicine at Hennepin County Medical Center, said six patients at the hospital had critical injuries, and 22 had injuries that were not considered life-threatening. There was one fatality there, Clinton said.
“This is a very busy bridge,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., whose home is nearby. “It’s really right in the heart of the city,” Klobuchar told CNN. “Thousands of commuters use this bridge every day.”