MN bridge collapse kills 5

Churches open doors to those in need.

BY STAFF REPORT | MINNEAPOLIS | August 2, 2007


I-35W bridge which collapsed was a major link between Minneapolis and St. Paul.

View of I-35W collapse from pedestrian bridge.

Recovery efforts resumed Friday for victims who were plunged into the Mississippi River when a bridge linking Minneapolis and St. Paul suddenly collapsed.

Officials, who revised the death toll from nine to four on Thursday morning, said the number could climb as they search the river for people reported missing. Officials originally said at least 20 people were missing but later reports put the figure at eight. Seventy-nine people were injured. The fifth body was found late Thursday.

The I-35W bridge collapsed during the evening rush hour Wednesday.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty called the bridge collapse "a catastrophe of historic proportions for Minnesota."

The faith community was joining together to respond.

"It is in times like these that community is most experienced, in our religious traditions and more broadly in society," said the Rev. Chris Morton of the Minnesota Council of Churches (MCC).

Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman of Temple Israel in Minneapolis said her synagogue was "a center for the community as a whole, with a strong history of fulfilling our Jewish heritage of being of service to people of all faiths."

The Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis held prayer services at noon Thursday at St. Olaf Catholic Church in Minneapolis and The Cathedral of Saint Paul in St. Paul. Several hundred people attended.

MCC held an interfaith service at 6 p.m. Thursday at Temple Israel. Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Muslim representatives from the downtown clergy association spoke.

Gail Anderson, MCC's unity and relationships organizer, said the public was invited. A special invitation was sent to the families of the children who were on the bridge in a bus when the span collapsed.

Anderson said her organization will be involved with the response in any way it can.

"We'll do what we can do and we're waiting to see what we're dealing with," she said. "We're all in touch now and will figure out what needs to be done based on the situation."

She added that MCC was in touch with the Minnesota Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster and has offered its service when needed.

Many religious organizations downtown and around the Twin Cities opened their doors to people for personal prayer or meditation. Those that announced their facilities would be available Thursday and Friday included Westminster Presbyterian Church, Plymouth Congregational Church, Central Lutheran Church, Temple Israel and Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church.

At Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church near the site of the bridge collapse, Father Charlie Froehle said his church would also remain open to those in need.

"It's been a quiet reverence," said Froehle, whose church is one mile from the I-35W bridge site. "Yet wherever you go, you talk to people and everyone wants to talk about it right away."

Religious leaders on Wednesday night went to a downtown hotel where families gathered to await word on their loved ones. The American Red Cross was also there providing assistance. Three Salvation Army mobile feeding units, as well as more than a dozen emergency responders, were on the scene of the bridge collapse. The Salvation Army also has staff on site to help with spiritual and emotional care.

Adam Moore of the Salvation Army witnessed the collapse of the bridge and immediately began coordinating a response with services and spiritual care.

"This is why the Salvation Army exists," Moore said. "We help people make sense of tragedy and help them put the pieces back together."

A portion of the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed shortly after 6 p.m. CDT Wednesday. The 40-year-old bridge, which was undergoing repairs, is a major link between St. Paul and Minneapolis. The eight-lane bridge is 1,900 feet long. It was inspected in 2005 and 2006 by the Minnesota Department of Transportation and no structural defects were found, Pawlenty said.

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were dispatched to Minneapolis. U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, along with Sens. Norm Coleman and Amy Klobuchar, also traveled to the Twin Cities. Peters told state transportation departments nationwide to inspect bridges of the same design. A similar inspection was ordered by Pawlenty for bridges of the same design in Minnesota.

As many as 50 cars and trucks were reported to have been dumped into the water 64 feet below. Authorities said the bridge was packed with vehicles when it collapsed.

Divers were on the scene searching for people in submerged cars and helicopters were airlifting the injured to area hospitals. The operation shifted from rescue to recovery late Wednesday night, then a few hours later operations were halted until morning.

A school bus carrying about 60 children had just crossed the bridge before it collapsed; the children managed to escape out of the back door of the bus. Some of the children and adults on the bus were treated for injuries. The bus did not go into the water.

Officials closed down 35W northbound and southbound. Motorists were advised to use alternate routes, such as Highway 280. More than 100,000 vehicles use the bridge every weekday.

The cause of the collapse was not immediately known but officials said there was no indication of terrorism.


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