An interstate bridge suddenly broke into huge sections and collapsed into the Mississippi River during bumper-to-bumper traffic Wednesday, killing at least six people and sending vehicles, tons of concrete and twisted metal crashing into the water.
The Interstate 35W bridge, a major link between Minneapolis and St. Paul, was in the midst of being repaired when it collapsed.
"There were two lanes of traffic, bumper to bumper, at the point of the collapse. Those cars did go into the river," Minneapolis Police Lt. Amelia Huffman. "At this point there is nothing to suggest that this was anything other than a structural collapse."
Jamie Winegar of Houston said she was sitting in traffic when all of a sudden she started hearing "boom, boom, boom and we were just dropping, dropping, dropping, dropping."
The car she was riding in landed on top of a smaller car but did not fall into the water. She said her nephew yelled, "'It's an earthquake!' and then we realized the bridge was collapsing."
Mayor R.T. Rybak said at least six people were killed. There were no immediate reports on the total number of injured, but Dr. Joseph Clinton, emergency medical chief at Hennepin County Medical Center, said the hospital treated 28 injured people _ including six who were in critical condition.
Other hospitals also were treating the injured. Clinton said at least one of the victims had drowned.
The arched bridge, which was built in 1967, rises about 64 feet above the river. An estimated 50 vehicles plunged into the water and onto the land below, the Star-Tribune reported.
A burning truck and a school bus clung to one slanted slab. The bus had just crossed the bridge before it crumpled into pieces, and broadcast reports indicated the children on the bus exited out the back door.
Christine Swift's 10-year-old daughter, Kaleigh, was on the bus, returning from a field trip to Bunker Hills in suburban Blaine. She said her daughter called her about 6:10 p.m.
"She was screaming, 'The bridge collapsed,'" Swift said.
She said a police officer told her all the kids got off the bus safely.
Dozens of vehicles were scattered and stacked on top of each other amid the rubble. Some people were stranded on parts of the bridge that aren't completely in the water.
Melissa Hughes, 32, of Minneapolis said she was driving home across the bridge when she went down when the western edge in the collapse.
"You know that free fall feeling? I felt that twice," said Hughes, who was not injured.
A pickup ended up on top of her car, partially crushing the top and back end.
"I had no idea there was a vehicle on my car," she said. "It's really very surreal."
Many motorist could have been headed to the Minnesota Twins game scheduled not far from the bridge, but the game was postponed, team president Dave St. Peter said.
Ramon Houge told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that he was on his way home from work on the bridge when he heard a rumbling noise, saw the ground collapse and cars go down.
Traffic was bumper to bumper and hundreds of people would have been involved, he said. He said cars backed up as best they could and he parked in a construction zone and was finally able to turn around and drive off the bridge. "It didn't seem like it was real," he said.
Local television stations captured video of injured people being carried up the riverbank. There was no official word on injuries, but dozens of rescue vehicles were there. Divers were also in the water.
Workers have been repairing the 40-year-old bridge's surface as part of improvements along that stretch of the interstate, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported on its Web site.
Homeland Security Department spokesman Russ Knocke also said the collapse did not appear to be terrorism-related.
Last update: 08/02/2007
(Â© 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)
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