Hundreds of first responders, community leaders, victims of the 35W Bridge collapse and their families joined a procession from Gold Medal Park to the Stone Arch Bridge as part of a memorial ceremony to mark the first anniversary of the disaster.
With the sound of rushing Mississippi River water and mournful bagpipes in the background, several hundred people snaked onto the Stone Arch Bridge on Friday evening to commemorate the first anniversary of the Interstate 35W bridge collapse.
Many of the victims’ family members looked on from a nearby riverboat as Minneapolis Police Inspector Mike Martin read the names of the 13 who died. A dove was released for each victim.
At 6:05 p.m., survivors, first responders, bridge workers, political leaders and everyday Minnesotans bowed their heads in silence as an American flag was slowly unfurled from the $234 million replacement bridge that is nearing completion.
With fire trucks and ambulances leading the procession and media helicopters buzzing above, the scene bore some similarities to the warm evening of Aug. 1, 2007, when nearly 150 people were injured in a disaster that prompted an outcry about the nation’s aging infrastructure.
The ceremony on the stone bridge capped a day of remembrances, including murals unveiled by the kids who were on the now-familiar Waite House school bus, an interfaith service at the Basilica of St. Mary and an arts performance at a riverside park next to the Guthrie Theater.
As if on cue, a bald eagle circled over the crowd at the performance.
“That eagle was really something special,” said Yahye Mohamed.
Mohamed is a Red Cross outreach coordinator who walked along with the procession.
Tonya Ostrowski greeted her dad, Dave, with an armful of flowers when they joined more than 400 people for the service at the Basilica on Friday morning. The flowers were only fitting.
Dave Ostrowski usually rides a motorcycle, but he drove his black Chrysler onto the I-35W bridge a year ago because he had to pick up flowers for Tonya’s 23rd birthday.
“I’d be dead if I hadn’t gotten those flowers,” the 52-year-old machinist from St. Louis Park said.
Ostrowski missed six months of work with compression fractures in his back. He’s been meeting regularly with survivors and enjoyed rekindling those relationships on the anniversary of the collapse.
“People are dealing with it in different ways,” he said. “Some are a little more happy-go-lucky than others accepting the fact that it happened and they’re going on with their lives,” he said.
The interfaith service began with four Buddhist monks chanting and included an American Indian drum circle and prayers from Islamic, Jewish, Hindu and Christian leaders.
Methodist Bishop Sally Dyck, president of the Minnesota Council of Churches, told those gathered that we’ve all become bridge engineers in the last year.
“We’ve learned the gusset plates gave way,” she said. “There was a design flaw and no redundancy system, so the bridge went down in a matter of moments. But we suggest today that our relationships … are the redundancy system that catches and carries us and is built into our faith, our traditions and our community.”
A political who’s who at the Basilica included Gov. Tim Pawlenty, U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Norm Coleman, R-Minn., and Coleman’s DFL challenger, Al Franken, as well as Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau, who was ousted from her post as transportation commissioner in the wake of the collapse.
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said much will be made of the new bridge, which is slated to open this fall.
“But more should be made of the bridges that were built that bonded together this community of one-time strangers,” Rybak said. “It would be a mistake for us to think our role as a beloved community of faith is over. Our challenge now is to sustain our compassion over many years to make sure that we heal wounds.”
After the service, victims’ families and survivors seemed reluctant to leave. Ron Engebretsen, whose wife, Sherry, was among the 13 who died, embraced school bus driver Kim Dahl and others.
While some family members stayed away from the formal memorial events, saying they were too political, others found the day’s activities therapeutic.
Linda Paul, 57, recalled the “screeching metal, grinding concrete and hurtling downward.” She suffered five fractured vertebrae and cracked ribs. Her left cheekbone was rebuilt and her eye realigned.
“But I’ve learned about the companionship and compassion of other people,” she said. “In many ways, this has been a very positive experience just because the support and emotional connections have been so striking.”