An interstate bridge jammed with rush-hour traffic suddenly broke into huge sections and collapsed into the Mississippi River, pitching dozens of cars 60 feet (18 meters) into the water and killing at least seven people.
The eight-lane Interstate 35W bridge, a major Minneapolis artery, was in the midst of being repaired and two lanes in each direction were closed when the bridge buckled Wednesday evening.
"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 was sitting in traffic shortly after 6 p.m. (2300 GMT) 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."
Minneapolis Fire Chief Jim Clack said 60 people were taken to area hospitals for treatment and that the death toll could rise.
Rescuers called off the search as nightfall made it too dangerous to search the waters filled with chunks of the mangled bridge and at least 50 vehicles in the water.
"We think there are several more vehicles in the river we can't see yet," Clack said, adding that the likelihood of finding survivors was slim.
Dr. Joseph Clinton, emergency medical chief at Hennepin County Medical Center, said his hospital treated 28 injured people — including six who were in critical condition.
Clinton said at least one of the victims had drowned.
The Homeland Security Department also said the collapse did not appear to be terrorism-related. The National Transportation Safety Board planned to send a team of investigators to Minneapolis, NTSB spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz said.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty said the bridge was inspected by the Minnesota Department of Transportation in 2005 and 2006 and that no structural problems were noted. "There were some minor things that needed attention," he said.
Police Chief Tim Dolan said officers were checking other bridges as a precaution, the AP reports.
The bridge, built in 1967, was inspected in 2005 and 2006 and no structural defects were found, Pawlenty said. Several projects were under way, including concrete replacement, guard rail and lighting repairs and work on the joints, he said.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation had recommended that the deck be replaced by 2020 or beyond, Pawlenty said.
All but one of the construction workers were accounted for, Police Chief Tim Dolan said during a 9 p.m. local time news conference. Divers have surveyed the river.
A school bus carrying about 60 children was on the bridge. As many as 10 were transported to area hospitals and the rest were released to their families, an American Red Cross spokesman told reporters.
He put out a call for blood donors and financial donations.
The Hennepin County Medical Center received one drowning victim, six others with serious injuries and 22 more with non- critical injuries, Joseph Clinton, chief of emergency medicine, said in a televised news conference.
Four patients had undergone surgery as of 9:45 p.m. local time for abdominal and head injuries, Clinton said.
“It looks like the scene at the bridge is largely a recovery operation at this time,” he said. “The rest of the night should be quiet.”
The hospital opened its emergency operations unit and brought in additional personnel to prepare for more cases, hospital spokeswoman Shannon Kelly said.
The Minnesota Twins played the Kansas City Royals tonight at the Metrodome. The Royals beat the Twins 5-3 in 10 innings. Tomorrow's game against the Royals was postponed, according to a Twins' press release, Bloomberg reports.
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