Witnesses to a disaster

Woman near collapsed bridge
Unidentified woman watches the cleanup of the 35W bridge collapse.
Photo submitted by Eric Brandt

"My wife and I were on a company cruise on the river about 200-300 ft (approaching Lower St. Anthony Falls lock) from the bridge when it fell. About half of us were on the top deck and saw the entire event from start to finish. Had the bridge fallen 10 minutes later we would have been underneath it."

Within minutes of the collapse there were people walking on the fallen bridge deck and clamoring out of the water....

"The bridge fell from the south to the north end and seemed to take 10-15 seconds. The sound was very loud. Within minutes of the collapse there were people walking on the fallen bridge deck and clamoring out of the water, including at least one construction worker who may have not even been in a vehicle. Our boat waited for approximately one hour at the scene to assist in any efforts, but it was decided that there was no room to maneuver the boat outside of the lock gates. We backed out and left the area."

-- Cory Swingen, Minneapolis

"I was down there right after it happened and saw parents running to find out about their children. It was an absolutely unbelievable scene. I take that bridge and ride my bike under it every morning along the Mississippi and write music there. I am sure I know someone involved because I am really close in this community."

-- Christian Wangensteen, Minneapolis

"My son's daycare, Kindercare, was right next to the collapse. I wonder if they will ever be able to re-open. This is a small loss among many larger ones, but it will be sad to be separated from what has become his second family. It makes me think of all of the workers or residents very near to the collapse."

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I could see big things sticking out of the river at odd angles....

-- Shannon Dahmes, Minneapolis

"I was riding on my bike across the Stone Arch Bridge just a minute after the collapse happened. I didn't see it go down; I just saw a big cloud of dust and I thought they were sandblasting the bridge. Then, when it cleared, I could see big things sticking out of the river at odd angles and I realized what had happened. I live in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood just west of 35W and it was quite bizarre to have thousands of people descend on our neighborhood. We are also wondering what the next 3+ years are going to be like without having the freeway."

-- Linda Lincoln, Minneapolis

"I was in my pickup truck headed south on 35W just emerging from the University Ave over pass on the north side of the bridge. The traffic was moving quite slowly. My window was open - I have no AC in my pickup. I was scanning the road ahead when I saw the trailers of the construction crew and some vehicles rise into the air ahead of me maybe three hundred feet away. The bridge deck seemed to rise up to follow them and then the entire mass of material settled and fell away below my sight line. The edge of the deck about four car lengths in front of me disappeared and I saw vehicles slide backwards down the incline and out of sight."

"I honked my horn at the construction crew working along the side of the road as the entire event happened with little more than the normal construction and traffic noise. I pulled over and jumped out of my truck and yelled to them that the deck had just collapsed. We ran up the short incline as a large cloud of cement dust engulfed us. Visibility was very limited. I called 911."

...I saw the trailers of the construction crew and some vehicles rise into the air ahead of me....

"As the cloud cleared we could see the bridge had completely collapsed except for one section of deck in front of us that stood like a table with the connecting section sloping down in front of us. We started helping people move away from their vehicles and gathered others to help. The construction crew began to move quickly to the bank of the river area, where the deck had pancaked down flat. The cars in front of us had slid backwards but those that were at the deck seam had flipped over on to the vehicles below or the roadway."

"We could hear sirens in the distance by this time. Many people began to gather from vantage points around the area. The 10th Avenue bridge was becoming packed."

"The first police began arriving, two officers on motorbikes, quickly followed by more patrol cars. The bridge and on-ramp from University was one of the only access points so we moved the cars on the roadway off as quickly as possible. The police response was excellent getting people moving out, getting emergency vehicles in and gawkers back quickly."

-- Craig Johnson, Minneapolis

"Last night, my employer hosted a work party on the Mississippi River Queen. We embarked at 5:30 from Boom Island and headed south. The boat was about to enter the lock just north of the bridge at 6:05 p.m., when the incident happened. My wife and I were on the top deck talking about plans for the weekend when a loud noise caused us to turn around and look at the I-35W bridge. We saw the center span of the bridge fall down. Then, like dominos, successive spans fell. We saw cars plunge off the bridge. We saw people in the water. And for about 30 seconds after the collapse, there was an eerie silence. For the next hour our boat stayed between the locks ready to assist the rescue operation if necessary. Fortunately, we weren't needed because the response of emergency personnel was almost immediate, as was the help of other bystanders."

-- Robert Martin, St. Louis Park

It resembled the images I saw of the San Francisco earthquake....

"I passed over the University Avenue bridge within about 5 minutes of the I-35W bridge's collapse. I did not hear any noise, and so did not know what happened as I passed over 35 on University. There was an unusually large cloud of white smoke in the air, about a story above the University bridge, which is itself a full story over 35W. I thought the cloud was just the product of road cleaning as part of the ongoing road construction that has been happening on that stretch over the course of the summer. It obstructed my view of the 35W bridge, so I had no idea what had really just happened. As I passed through the cloud it smelled and tasted like plaster and concrete, and I was slightly concerned about what possible unhealthy products could be in the cloud. I passed by totally unaware of what had just taken place."

"As I continued on, I noticed a heavy amount of emergency vehicles with sirens on passing through the Dinkytown area towards the bridge, and when I passed back from Dinkytown, I noticed the large crowds beginning to amass on the 10th Avenue bridge and a couple of thin columns of black smoke in the distance. I went out on the 10th Avenue bridge to investigate the issue, and then I saw firsthand the collapsed remains of the 35W bridge. It resembled the images I saw of the San Francisco earthquake back in the '90s, when stretches of LA and San Francisco freeways fell from their proper positions. Overall it was a surreal sight."

-- Joe Schaedler, Minneapolis

Images of a brownish/tan minivan hanging perilously in mid-air were stuck in my mind....

"My wife and I were witnesses of the collapse. It feels very surreal. Unfathomable. Just horrible. At the time of the bridge collapse, we were on the Mississippi River for a boat cruise."

"It collapsed in front of our very eyes - just about 500 feet in front of us - it was difficult to gauge the distance. We were well east of the Stone Arch Bridge, just approaching the next lock, to the west of the 35W bridge. The captain of the boat quickly brought us to a halt right before the lock."

"About 20 seconds before it happened, I got a phone call from our babysitter so I moved to the upper deck to get some space to talk. She was calling because the electricity went out at home in south Minneapolis. I was trying to explain how to get the power back on when I saw the right (southern) portion of the bridge cave in - hearing a huge thunder and metal on metal at the same time as it crumbled into the river in just a matter of about 5 seconds. I was stunned and told her what had just happened, but I wasn't making any sense to her - I said I'd call her back soon. Images of a brownish/tan minivan hanging perilously in mid-air were stuck in my mind and we all were in a state of shock and disbelief. All signs indicated that it was a horrible disaster and not a terrorist act, but the timing of the power outage made it seem possible for a few split seconds."

"Right after the collapse, I assumed the crew of the boat and others on board were calling 911, so there was a delay of a few seconds before I dialed 911. It took about 6 or 7 calls to get through - the operator picked up and said 'Are you calling about the bridge?' and I said 'Yes - just send everything, send everything you've got, it's horrible...'"

"If we had gone down one more lock (continuing on our route) then we would have essentially been underneath the bridge. It was a horrific sight. We felt paralyzed watching the struggle in front of us and there was nothing we could do. A couple of us started getting life jackets out, thinking that we could help - but we weren't able to do anything. We were so close but so far away."

-- Erik and Jess Wood, Minneapolis

"My friend David Brown was on the bridge and broke a vertebrate but I haven't been able to find out if he is alright. I also was in the area and took so pictures with a high quality camera (with real lenses) that I can send in when developed if you'd like. This one hurts; it hurts bad and will for a long time. We've got to all stick together and send out best wishes, prayers or whatever you can to get through it together."

-- Tyler Suter, Minneapolis