As tragic as it was, bridge disaster could have been worse

Most kids escaped
There were no serious injuries when the bridge collapsed, taking the school bus in the center of the picture with it.
Submitted photo by Steve Winckelman

Eighth grader Jeisy Aguaiza was on the bus. After the accident, she spoke with reporters wearing shorts, a pink T-shirt and just one pink flip-flop. She lost the other one somewhere during the 65-foot fall and rescue.

Aguaiza says when the bridge collapsed, the students were heading home from a day trip to Bunker Beach Water Park in Coon Rapids.

"It felt scary," she said. "First we thought we crashed, but then we felt us going down. I didn't look out the window. I saw dust everywhere, and people were screaming."

Aguaiza says as it fell, the bus seemed to tilt to the side.

"I saw the bridge and then I saw part of the bridge way far ahead of me and there were cars right there and I saw lots of cars on the bridge. I saw a big truck next to us," she said.

Jeisy Aguaiza, 13, says there were about 60 people on the bus, including children and staff members. She says the kids ranged in age from kindergarten to teenagers. She says she helped get the younger kids off the bus through the back-door exit. She says everybody escaped and they all walked to the Red Cross station nearby.

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Cellphones were not working and it took Aguaiza some time to reach her parents, who came to take her home.

Another parent, Jose Brisuela was waiting for his two children, ages 13 and 6.

"Fortunately all, as I know, all of them are OK except for the teacher. She's a little injured, but I don't know much about it," he said.

The bridge collapse happened almost literally in the back yard of the Twin Cities Red Cross building on the West River Parkway in Minneapolis.

Derek Turner, who volunteers for the Red Cross, helped the children who were from Waite House, an Minneapolis youth program. He says Red Cross volunteers quickly set up a staging area "to capture who they were as well as work with the organization and their families to reunite the children back together as well as any children that needed medical attention, we provided medical attention."

Turner says the kids he worked with were scared and wanted to be reunited with their families right away.

Red Cross spokesman Ted Canova says nobody on the bus was killed. Reports indicate only one person was hospitalized, an adult who suffered the most serious injuries. Canova says nine injured children were taken to area hospitals.

"In the moments that ensued after the kids were taken to the hospital, parents and family members were coming to the Red Cross, down the hill right on the River Road, and there were emotional embraces, as you can imagine. There were tears of joy . There was also sadness, concern," he said.

But on a day with such tragedy, one busload of kids who needed help, ended up in just the right place. At the door of the Red Cross.