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The I-35 bridge crossing the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis collapsed around 6:00 p.m. yesterday plunging at least 50 vehicles to the river below. Some vehicles landed in the water; others fell with the roadbed and landed upright on the surface of the sunken bridge or, like the school bus with 60 kids ages 4 – 13, were left stranded on broken sections of the bridge.

I-35 is a major artery through Minneapolis as well as the highway leading in and out of the city. In addition to the normal rush hour traffic, fans were headed downtown to a Minnesota Twins game scheduled for last night.

At 8:00 a.m. this morning the Today Show reported 4 dead, but at least 17 were still unaccounted for. The families of those missing were staged in a local hotel to await news of their loved ones. They had to be devastated when search efforts were haulted last night at 10:00 p.m. and were told that search and recovery, not search and rescue, would resume this morning.

As far as US bridges go, this one is fairly young, only 40 years old. However, when it was inspected in 2005, it was given the “structurally deficient” rating. According to CNN

A bridge is tagged structurally deficient when significant bridge elements have deteriorated and the bridge’s load-carrying capacity is reduced, according to the highway administration. A bridge is dubbed functionally obsolete when the bridge does not meet current design standards.Neither label indicates a bridge is unsafe for travel, the highway administration said.

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty said “It was last inspected both in 2005 and 2006. There were no structural deficiencies identified according to [the Minnesota Department of Transportation]”

The bridge was currently under construction for resurfacing only, no structural work was being done. However, witnesses reported hearing jack hammers working on the bridge deck in the past weeks. It makes one wonder if the “structurally deficient” state of the bridge was compromised with the additional stress of the roadwork.

Due to the extent of the damage and the difficulty in examining the wreckage, the experts on all the news stations agreed that the cause of the collapse will not be known for several months.

For more information on this subject, please refer to our section on Car and Motorcycle Accidents.

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