35W bridge collapse, as seen by the rescuers

  • Article by: JIM ADAMS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 1, 2012 - 8:38 PM

A new exhibit on the disaster opened at the Firefighters Hall & Museum in Minneapolis.

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Aug. 1, 2007: 35W bridge collapse.

Photo: Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

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Linda Paul, severely injured when her Dodge van went down with the collapsing Interstate 35W bridge in 2007, hardly needs to learn more about the events of that harrowing day. But on Sunday, she was among the visitors to a new Minneapolis exhibit that presents the disaster through the eyes of rescue workers, both official and civilian.

"I came because I wanted to see it from the other side," said Paul, 60, who suffered broken facial bones, ribs and vertebrae when the bridge fell. "It's unnerving to see your picture as you walk in." In that photograph, her profile can be seen in her wedged van as a man tries to remove her.

The exhibit, "81 Minutes: After the Bridge Collapsed," opened Saturday at the Firefighters Hall & Museum in northeast Minneapolis. The title refers to the amount of time it took for rescuers to remove all survivors from the bridge wreckage after the 6 p.m. rush-hour disaster on Aug. 1, 2007.

The bridge's 456-foot center span fell 108 feet into the Mississippi River that hot afternoon, killing 13 people and injuring 145. About 200 people and more than 120 vehicles were involved in the rescue.

Also viewing the exhibit Sunday was a firefighter who helped cut a deceased victim from his burned semitrailer truck the day after the bridge fell. "It is incredible," said Craig Essig, a member of state Task Force 1, a technical victim-recovery team at the Edina Fire Department. "Some of the emotion comes back."

For six hours, his team worked with St. Paul firefighters to cut a hole through the back of the burned and partly crushed semi cab and trailer to reach and remove the dead driver. His team had trained with other city special rescue teams since 9/11.

It was amazing how smoothly firefighters, paramedics, deputies and others worked together to triage victims and get them to hospitals, he said.

Essig recalled his team's arrival in a parking lot overlooking the river. "You pull up and look across there and it looks like the Grand Canyon -- this huge open space that used to have a bridge."

The National Transportation Safety Board cited a design flaw as the likely cause of the collapse. The board asserted that additional weight from repair equipment and materials on the bridge at the time contributed to its failure.

Paul, of Minneapolis, lost her job because of her injuries but testified at legislative hearings on the victim compensation bill and was part of the victims' civil lawsuit. She's starting a new career after graduating last month from the architecture program at Dunwoody Institute in Minneapolis.

The exhibit includes a computer monitor on which viewers can select victims, including Paul, based on where they landed at the crash scene, and see their video interviews.

Another exhibit theme is the civilians who worked with firefighters and others. One display panel quotes Minneapolis Fire Capt. Paul Baumtrog:

"It was a vote of confidence in humankind. They stepped up; they didn't run. And many were injured themselves."

Jim Adams • 952-746-3283

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