I-35W bridge over Mississippi River collapses

The I-35W bridge over the Mississippi River, just north of the Metrodome, collapsed during rush hour Wednesday night sending dozens of vehicles into the river and onto land next to the bridge. At least six people are confirmed dead.

Mayor R.T. Rybak, Governor Tim Pawlenty, Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan and Twin Cities Red Cross representative Ted Canova held a 9 p.m. press conference at the Government Center.

“Our hearts and our prayers go out tonight to the families and the friends of the victims of one of the most tragic nights in the history of Minneapolis,” Rybak said. (Click here to listen to the mayor speak about the disaster.)

Rybak said the Minneapolis Fire Department was in control of the situation with help from county, state and federal agencies.

The Red Cross hotline for questions about the disaster is 612-460-3700.

More than 50 cars involved in the collapse had been searched by 9 p.m., Rybak said.

A school bus was among several vehicles sitting on a twisted slab of concrete in the river. Some children were injured in the fall, but all survived, he said.

The search for survivors was still underway.

“We have concern that this will be a very tragic night when it is over,” Rybak said.

The mayor asked people to use their cell phones as little as possible to allow those who need them to get through to loved ones.

The 8-lane-wide bridge is a unique structure that was built in 1967, Pawlenty said. It was inspected in 2005 and 2006, but no structural defects were found. Some minor cosmetic items were found, though, and construction crews were working on those when the bridge collapsed. Concrete, guardrail and light replacement were among the items being repaired.

The cause of the fall was not yet known, but Dolan said it did not appear to be a terrorist act. When the rescue efforts are complete, federal and state investigations will be launched to determine the cause, Pawlenty said.

The 40-year-old bridge has been undergoing repair work. All but one of the northbound lanes of the interstate highway between I-94 and Highway 36 were scheduled to have been closed tonight at 8 p.m. for road work.

A family center has been set up at the Holiday Inn Metrodome, 1500 Washington Ave. S.

In the hours after the incident, crowds flooded nearby river bridges. Throngs of University of Minnesota students and others ran down a dusty dirt road on campus to catch a glimpse from a pedestrian bridge near the scene.

Jeff Kartak, of Northeast Minneapolis, was among them. Kartak said he was driving home on 35W from his mother’s house around the time the bridge collapsed. He turned off the freeway before getting on the bridge to avoid construction and said he heard the first emergency responders shortly afterward.
 
“Normally I would have been on that freeway but I got off because of the heavy traffic because of construction,” he said.

Kent Barnhard, a Minnesota Department of Transportation spokesperson, told KMSP Fox 9 News that construction workers were on the bridge working when the collapse took place. Barnhard said the workers were doing "nothing dealing with the structure of the bridge."