With claims paid, victims get parts from the bridge that nearly killed them when the span tumbled into the Mississippi River on Aug. 1, 2007.
Clutching a large bolt that had been sheared in half as the I-35W bridge collapsed beneath her, Kim Dahl said she hoped having a piece of the fallen bridge would help her and her family put the deadly episode behind them.
“Just seeing the stuff, all the mangled wreckage up close, is just a reality — I mean this was what was beneath us when we fell,” Kim Dahl said as she and others who survived when the span tumbled into the Mississippi River on Aug. 1, 2007, accepted pieces of the bridge from state officials Wednesday.
Dahl, whose back was broken in the disaster, said she hoped engineers had been able to use the parts to figure out what caused the bridge to fall.
“They needed to find out how what has caused this to happen so that it doesn’t ever, ever happen again to anybody,” she said.
Dahl’s daughter, Arrianna Merritt, now 16, and her younger brother were on a school bus their mother was driving for a summer program when the bridge gave way during the afternoon rush hour.
Wednesday, the teen said she was still in disbelief over the collapse that killed 13 people and injured 145.
“I kind of don’t even think I’m here — I think it’s just a dream,” Merritt said as she stood in a warehouse in Oakdale, among tons of twisted, sheared steel painted army green, recalling images she’ll never forget.
“You saw the cars, and you saw the bridge, but everything else was just kind of gone; you didn’t know where it went, ” said Merritt, who suffered a concussion. “Then you saw all the people stranded on little pieces of concrete, and you worried about if they were going to get off or not.”
More coming in September
About two dozen survivors and representatives of victims were expected Wednesday at the warehouse owned by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) in Oakdale to collect pieces of the twisted steel, with another 10 or so slated to collect some in September, said Kevin Gutknecht, a spokesman for the agency.
“Hopefully it’s done and over with and out of our lives,” Merritt said as her father loaded up hunks of steel to drive home.
The man who dreamed up the distribution, Brent Olson, was there gathering up pieces as well. He and wife Chris Olson, both 64, were on the span near downtown when it fell all around them.
Olson contacted former MnDOT Commissioner Tom Sorrel and Gutknecht several times over the years with a request that survivors or their families be given pieces of the bridge that fell after a gusset plate failed.
Wednesday, that plate, which is a thick sheet of steel used to connect beams and girders, was among the struts, sheared bolts and other pieces eligible for distribution.
Gutknecht said the last of the lawsuit claims were recently paid, and that, along with a new state law, made it possible to distribute the state-owned property to those directly affected, including first responders.
Universities, civic groups and the Minnesota Historical Society also are eligible for the steel.
State officials expect to give away 121 tons of the 3,380 tons of steel. The rest will be sold to metal recyclers for roughly $645,000 to cover a fraction of the millions in compensation paid to survivors.
Dealing with challenges