Memories of the I-35W bridge collapse | Minnesota Public Radio News

Memories of the I-35W bridge collapse

Ten years ago today, the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed in Minneapolis. Thirteen people were killed and 145 more were injured. Here, Minnesotans share their memories of that day, August 1, 2007.

    My husband, Dan, and I were sitting at the table by the window at Blackbird — at its original location on 50th and Bryant — having walked over from our house. Just after we sat down, two squad cars roared down 50th at top speed. We were upset that police cars would go that fast down a residential road.
    After dinner, we walked home. A friend called us to ask "if we were okay?" What? She told us the bridge had collapsed and she was worried about us. I'll always be touched by her call. — Welcome, Minneapolis

    My office was a couple blocks away in Dinkytown, and when I left to go home I saw the traffic moving very slowly on I-35 so I turned left on the 10th Avenue bridge. When I was waiting at the stoplight at Riverside Ave I heard a noise and felt a bump, and looked around to see what made the noise. I couldn't see anything, so assumed it was from the University building construction nearby. Got home and a friend called to tell me what had just happened and I realized I had heard the bridge go down. I had a pretty visceral "Oh my god, I could have been on the bridge," rush of adrenaline.
    My wife got home a few minutes later. She was a Red Cross first responder, and as we looked at the television, dumbstruck, she said out loud, “I'm not sure what I should do, they say don't respond until Red Cross assigns you, but I think I should go down now.” I practically pushed her out the door with her response bag and red vest, and she zoomed downtown. She was one of the last vehicles let in before they closed the area, and she made it to the (unbelievably close to the scene) Red Cross building. She ended up being there for most of the next three days, riding in the Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle, checking on responders and victims and providing food and facilitating communication. She was on the "Call this number if you are missing a family member" phone line, and heard some heartbreaking messages. — Steve, Minneapolis

    I was there. I drove through the dust cloud on University Ave and thought about construction on the bridge and chose to go on the 10th Ave Bridge instead.  Everyone was pulling over.  I looked down and was in shock, thinking “I didn't know they were taking the bridge down.” I saw the people and cars. It was so very silent.  I saw the bus before the fire showed. I took photos first with my phone, then camera. I went to call 911 and also listen to the radio. That's when I saw my camera in the car. The news came on about it a bit afterwards. It was gut-punching and the looks on faces, and the appalling grandness of it all was amazing. I worried about my daughter being on 35 since she was attending veterinary school at the U. — Janet, Minneapolis

    I was on my way home, in the Como neighborhood, after having supper with a friend. Once the construction started, I always took city streets home. That evening, I turned on the radio and heard that the 35W bridge over the Mississippi had collapsed. I thought what bridge? Then I heard it was the one in my neighborhood. I was ready to cross the 19th Ave S bridge when a police officer stopped me and told me the bridge was closed. My girlfriend called me several times to make sure I was okay.
    For a long time, I looked at the undersides of bridges as I drove along. Once the construction started on the Lowry Hill tunnel, I avoid going through the tunnel most of the time. — Dianne, Minneapolis

    I was in Dinkytown with my husband and we were meeting a friend for pizza. We were getting ready to leave the country for about 3 months and were doing the rounds. All of a sudden there were sirens and people yelling all over the place. We heard the bridge was gone through people on the street. We could see that emergency vehicles and onlookers were gathering at the river. 
    It was chaos. The traffic got crazy and people, cars and bikes were everywhere.
    What struck me though was a man riding a bike, probably about 50 years old, got off his bike and went into the intersection and began directing traffic and ensuring emergency and other critical vehicles got through. He appeared to be an ordinary guy in plain street clothes, he was still wearing his bike helmet.  It was impactful because people followed his orders. They were looking for sanity and direction in the chaos. I have always thought that in a critical situation it is "ordinary" citizens that rise and create community and calm for the greater good. I will always remember the way he rose to meet the needs of everyone in the immediate area. I hope he knows that what he did was truly Awesome. — Lindsey, Minneapolis

    I was eating pizza in an outdoor cafe and all of a sudden everyone's cell phone started buzzing. We all turned to each other in disbelief. My thoughts went to horror and loss. No warning? Then to such a sad statement about failing infrastructure of the US. How many were hurt or deceased? — Peter, Minneapolis

    I was driving north with my wife and children to visit my mom that day. We were in Hinckley when we heard about the collapse. The news rocked us because, based on the timing of the collapse, we should have been stuck in traffic on or near the bridge when it collapsed.
    Two things kept us from being caught up in that disaster.
    First, my wife had already driven over the bridge the day before. The repair work being done on the bridge at the time meant she was stuck sitting in traffic. She also noted how traffic going in the opposite direction made the bridge shudder. She was already talking about alternative routes the morning we were set to leave for the weekend.
    Second, we looked at the traffic report as we were packing up our truck and, sure enough, construction on the bridge was slowing things way down. For once, we decided to drive through St. Paul instead and take 35E north rather than our usual 35W route north. As a result, we were on another highway when the bridge collapsed. — Vincent, Minneapolis

    I know that I became very aware of how much our local community depends on bridges. I was very supportive of infrastructure improvements. I became much more aware of the importance of infrastructure. I started to learn a lot more about the relationships between natural spaces and construction. Although I had read about it before and intellectually I knew, now, I had an emotional tie to the idea that humans can't just do what they want, we have to work within the scope of the forces of nature — here: types of rock, clay, how things settle, weather & climate, etc. — and we have to somehow build something that can hopefully last only guessed at changes. — Kristina, Minneapolis

    I had just arrived in Roseville a half-hour before the collapse to take my grandsons on a hot-air balloon ride. When I got to the house, my step-daughter told me that it was cancelled due to the weather. But since it had been such a long commute and I was weary from being in the car so long, I asked if I could sit for a while — which turned out to be about 45 minutes, just long enough to miss the collapse, as that would have been the route I would have taken home. When I left their house I took 35W east and as I was approaching Snelling the radio gave the news of the collapse. So, I turned off the freeway and went an alternate route. I was one of the lucky ones.
    Your life can change in a heartbeat. It is important to savor every moment; not take anything for granted; tell your friends and family how much they mean to you; and show kindness and respect for everyone you meet. — Maria, Minneapolis

    I had just biked home from work at the Humphrey School on the West Bank of the U, passing underneath I-35. When I reached my apartment on Bank Street, in NE, I saw police cars and fire trucks on Main Street. Friends from Europe began contacting me to ask if I was alright before I heard the local news of the collapse of the bridge. — Katherine, Minneapolis

    My son was going to a sleep over in south Minneapolis, and was anxious for us to leave the house. I was very reluctant to get into the car, I dawdled with the laundry, fed the pets, tried to draw out starting the trip. Finally I didn't have anything else to delay the trip and my son and I headed to 35W going south from NE Minneapolis. Traffic was really busy. I had an unreasonable anxiety as we drove. We passed under the last bridge and were almost on the bridge when traffic stopped. We heard a terrible roar, and then dust, screaming, horns.
    Traffic was completely stopped. I couldn't see the bridge in front of the cars that were in front of us. Then the sirens started. I quickly tuned my radio to MPR, and waited to hear what had happened. Our car was stuck, cars in front and behind and nowhere to exit. From the sound of screaming, I knew something terrible happened. I closed the windows even though it was warm and told my son stories. I tried calling my husband, and then friends.
    Eventually the full impact of what had happened dawned on me. We stayed there, trapped in our car and waited for what seemed like hours. Eventually a highway patrol officer started moving the cars in our area so they could get the ambulances closer to the disaster. when it was our turn we were directed to turn around and drove the wrong way on the highway to get up to the exit north of the bridge. I was shaking so badly I could barely drive.
    If I hadn't dawdled and spent time doing chores before leaving we would have been on the bridge. I thank the creator that we were late, and whatever protector was whispering in my ear that day. — Kelley, Minneapolis

    I was at work that day; I was working the evening shift as a nurse on a Labor and Delivery unit in a suburb of St. Paul. One of the missing people was a pregnant Somali woman, and one of my coworkers took a phone call; it was from the husband of the missing woman, who was calling all the L&D units in the metro area, asking if his wife was there. He must have been hoping she had gone into labor and had gone to the hospital, that she hadn't died or been seriously injured in the bridge collapse. Unfortunately, she was among the dead.
    When my coworker announced what the call had been about, we just stood together in stunned silence. Some of us started crying. There was nothing else we could do, we had patients to take care of, but, I know that 10 years later I still think about that phone call, I am still haunted by the combination of desperation and hope that man must have been feeling. — Joyce, Woodbury

    At that time I was a stay at home mom to a 2-year-old and on Wednesdays I'd collect my husband from his carpool stop and we'd do supper on the north side of downtown Minneapolis along Central or Broadway. We were sitting at a restaurant along the river — don't remember which — when one of the ubiquitous TVs suddenly switched to local newscasters and the story. My stomach grew cold and we just watched and watched. It was the realization that we were next to that river and a mere mile or so away from the disaster and we had family, friends that used that bridge daily. We quickly checked in with family and waited to hear if friends were safe — thankfully all were. It was days of listening to tales of heroics, of tragedy, of terror, of salvation. — Christina, Minneapolis

    None of our close friends were directly affected by the collapse in terms of injury or loss of life. But most of the people we knew worked in downtown Minneapolis, and nearly all of them crossed that bridge several times a week, if not every day. The ways were affected ranged from the mundane (needing to find new routes to work and run errands) to the emotional (feeling apprehensive whenever we drove over a bridge, especially and older one). I bike along the West River Road regularly, and a stretch of park land across from the Weisman Art Museum was used to store the twisted metal remains of the bridge that were hauled out of the river. I remember thinking how much they looked like bones, as if a metal giant were being exhumed from the river. — Charles, Minneapolis

    My apartment was next door to the bridge. Driving down University Ave just after 6, a phone call from frantic sister "where are you?".  I'd walked under that bridge a week earlier with them; she knew I walked my dog each evening around 6. I couldn't get close to my building, stopped my car, got out and felt waves of energy. I started running to my home as the streets filled with emergency vehicles. Entered the lobby of the building, bloody footprints on the floor to elevator … Two most memorable moments:  1) the number of people who thought it was a good idea to bring tiny children to see this disaster — hundreds past my windows for weeks and 2) Very-quiet removal of retrieved vehicles, on flat beds, completely wrapped up, one after another, being driven away from the river. — Mary Jo, Minneapolis

    I was driving towards home, on University Avenue eastbound … Once on the University Avenue bridge over 35W I could see what the problem was. It was surreal. The 35W bridge over the Mississippi River had just collapsed.  There were large sections of it intact, many of them horizontal, though now down below near the ground and water.  There were vehicles visible on some of those slabs. I took a right and drove across the 10th Avenue bridge, adjacent to the now collapsed 35W bridge. I drove slow, and pulled over and stopped for a while to look at the disaster, as several others were also doing on the 10th Avenue bridge. Emergency vehicle sirens were now going off everywhere. I decided to leave, with the worry at the time "what if this bridge gets over weighted with too many cars parking on it to look?" I drove home, thinking had I been a few minutes earlier, I'd be on one of those slabs, or worse. I hoped the people on the bridge at the time were OK. — Thomas, Minneapolis

    I work from home and was sitting at my computer when an email came in from a friend in San Francisco that simply said "Are you at home and safe?" It gave me chills. I went in and turned the TV on CNN and there it was, still unfolding.
    Within an hour, the phone started ringing. And ringing. Our landline, my husband's cell, my cell, all were ringing constantly until about 11 p.m. We heard from people we hadn't talked to in twenty years. Some burst out crying when we answered. My mother in Missouri was panicked — not fearing for me, but she was so afraid my son was on that school bus she could see stranded on the bridge. It was all very touching and horrible at the same time. — Nancy, Minneapolis


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    I remember not being able to get a hold of my dad, who at the time worked in Roseville. He took 35W every day to our home in Bloomington. I called after seeing what happened. He didn't answer for quite some time. Needless to say, I was nervous. Eventually I did get a hold of him. He had stayed at work longer. — Andy, Bloomington​

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    I was 17 and going to the Twins game. We heard a sirens all around us and saw ambulances but had no idea why. Inside the Metrodome, we couldn't understand anything they were saying over the PA system. Our parents were trying to call and text us but the cell lines were down. We didn't know why everyone seemed so worried or what the PA announcer was saying until we left the game.
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    I had been out and about with my three young kids and my niece who was staying with us. Our phone started ringing in the late afternoon with calls from relatives near and as far away as Mexico asking if we were all right. This is how we learned about the bridge collapse.
    As a middle school teacher, I'm required to go over bus safety with my students every fall. Most of the kids have a "been there, done that" attitude about it. I do think about this incident, in that you just never know when you might need to step up. — Jennifer, New Hope
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    I grew up in Rochester, MN, and attended UMN in the twin cities through 2000. When the bridge collapsed I had been living and working in Seattle for 7 years. What I remember particularly vividly is the way the cellular networks collapsed and were completely overwhelmed for several days.
    Many of my friends and family still in MN at that time kept a cellphone only, no landline. When the networks went down I had to wait for days to be sure those I cared about were okay - without the cellular networks there was no way to directly check in and make sure they were alright. I know many people in the area were unable to even call 911, for the same reason.
    Until that time I had never thought twice about choosing to have a cellphone only, no land line. It never occurred to me that it would make any sort of difference in a disaster situation. Yet here we were, technology had been progressing at an amazing clip for a while, so many things were feeling so interconnected -- and then this one disaster occurs and it all pulled apart so we were left floating around in individual bubbles struggling to make sense of things on our own. — Kathryn, Seattle
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