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Continued: I-35W Bridge Collapse: The Aftershocks

  • Article by: PAM LOUWAGIE , Star Tribune
  • Last update: September 22, 2007 - 6:56 PM

The collapse is with them all the time, even when they're not specifically thinking about it.

Brent, an accountant, has trouble focusing when he sits down to do payroll. Chris will sometimes walk into the living room to look for something, then forget what she was looking for. Something as innocuous as a car accident on a TV show might bring tears.

"It's a weird feeling," Chris said. "It's almost like you don't have control of your mind completely anymore. Things are just going to pop in."

Screams are 'plain as day'

Construction worker Jeff Ringate of Waconia was getting ready to pour concrete on the bridge when it tumbled beneath him. He grabbed a broom from the pavement and used it to fish people out of the murky water. Images of cars sinking with people in them are seared in his mind. He can still hear screams of people trapped under debris.

"I can hear it just plain as day," Ringate said.

He doesn't even try to fall asleep until about 2 a.m. most nights, and now that he's working again - on light duty because of back and neck injuries - he has to rise early to go work on other bridges.

One assignment, he said, was working on a crumbling bridge over Hwy. 95 near Stillwater.

"The first day I pulled up there I wanted to get in my car and leave. Like you've got to be kidding me," he said. "The thing looked like it was getting ready to fall down."

The construction season for his job will last about another month and then, Ringate said, he hopes to switch to a job that doesn't involve bridges.

Looking for 'new normal'

Lindholm, a medical assistant caught in the collapse, wasn't as emotionally affected as many others that night. She sprang into action, walking around the broken concrete, comforting the injured and pouring bottled water on people's cuts.

The physical and mental pain came later.

"You feel like everything is out to get you," she said. "A car cuts in front of you and it's, 'Oh, God, here we go. I survived the bridge, now I'm going to get it in a car accident.'"

With time, experts say, much of the anxiety will go away. And in some cases, those who have experienced disaster trauma even become better for what they went through.

"They try to experience things a little more sincerely because they realize that life is a fragile process," said Gerard Jacobs, director of the Disaster Mental Health Institute at the University of South Dakota. "The overall struggle is an attempt to reconfigure your life into a new normal."

Some bridge survivors wonder what their new normal will be like, and when it will arrive.

"It's not something you're just going to move past," Ringate said.

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