In emergency rooms, drills set the stage for organized chaos

I had just arrived home from work at the University of Minnesota Medical Center when my pager went off. Orange alert! In a brief panic, I did exactly what I was NOT supposed to do: I, and a hundred others, called the supervisor to find out what was going on.

My husband turned on the news, then calmly informed me about the bridge. I jumped back in my car. Well on my way, I realized I had some bridges to cross. Was this some terrorist attack? Would more bridges fall?

I safely made it to work and reported to the emergency department. I found organized chaos and swarms of caregivers. We had drilled for this type of scenario. ...

The victims arrived in unusual ways -- in the back of pickup trucks, of all things. We identified, registered and treated them in hallways and ED [Emergency Department] rooms as if we had done it a thousand times. ...

The entire event flashed by: Not until it was over did I realize the magnitude of the team that came together. All our training had paid off. I will always remember bravery of the patients who rolled in scared and injured, and the caring, confident, capable people who treated them. I was gratified that we were able to handle this disaster and could have handled a lot worse. Thank God we did not have to.


15 seconds of fame gave way to continual questions of 'why'

I hesitated to share my thoughts; after all, I wasn't injured. I was just the "runner" who missed the bridge collapse by seconds.

For most of us the effects were nothing more than a tragic story and an inconvenience in travel. Some are dealing with an injury or loss for the rest of their lives -- absolute evidence of the lack of control we have in our lives. It is their stories that should garner the most attention.

After my bridge experience I wrote an e-mail and sent it to my friends, family and co-workers. ... The power of the Web was proven to me in the thousands of people it was forwarded to. Within 24 hours I was contacted by CNN and Fox News to tell my story of "near death."

I fell into a depression following my 15 minutes of fame and continually questioned the "why" of the moment. I've come to realize that we may never know why, and I'm OK with that.

... It was, and forever will be, a touchstone in my life. And the anniversary is an excellent reminder to tell all those important to me how much I love them. I will continue to run under bridges, regardless of what lies ahead.


A pivotal day for a new mother embracing both life and death

I was at home on bed rest, anticipating the arrival of my first child. My husband came home from work and we began to watch the news. We watched the reports begin to arrive in the newsroom, the local news get to the scene and then the national networks pick up coverage.

As we were watching the coverage, I turned to my husband and said, "This would not be a good night to go to the hospital."

Around 8:30, I got up to go to the bathroom. As soon as I did, it was unmistakable, my water was breaking. Despite my earlier statement, we called our doctor and headed for the hospital.

Our son was born early the morning of Aug. 2. The memory of the bridge collapse and my son's birth will always be related in my mind.

Over the past year, I keep thinking about the families affected by the bridge collapse and the pain they were/are going through while reflecting on the happiness I felt with my son's arrival. The day the bridge collapsed will be a pivotal day in my mind as it was the day in which my journey as a mom began.


No bridge will be crossed again without remembering that day

With the one-year anniversary of the bridge collapse upon us, I am in disbelief on how quickly the time has passed. Not a day goes by when I don't think about that dreadful day. Every time that I pass over a bridge or go underneath one, I am reminded of how lucky I am to still have my life, and how scared I am to this day to go over any large bridge.

I was on a section of the bridge that did not collapse, only to be five cars away from the edge that did. To see that bridge fall in front of my own eyes is a sight I will never forget.

I know it was a day that changed many Minnesotans' lives, lives that are still being rebuilt. To know that the bridge is almost finished being rebuilt, only one year later, is remarkable to me. When the time comes for me to cross over it for the first time, I know that it will be very difficult, not only to me, but to many other Minnesotans.

Bridges can be rebuilt, but the lives that were lost will never be brought back. All I can hope is that we keep learning from this tragedy, keep making our lives safer and keep all of those affected in our thoughts and prayers still. Until we know that no bridge will ever fall down again, I will continue to be very fearful of any bridge I pass over.


In the darkest time of tragedy, a community came together

I am a volunteer disaster relief worker with the Twin Cities Area Chapter of the American Red Cross. I live five blocks from the north end of the 35W bridge. I was home watching the 6 p.m. news Aug. 1. As the terrible truth of what had happened began to unfold on television via the news helicopters, I rushed to the scene amidst the sound of numerous sirens.

It is with reluctance that I have had to use "I." What comes back to me about that night and the days that followed are all of the law enforcement officers who responded -- many of whom were from beyond our metro area, the firefighters, medical personnel, Red Cross volunteers (from Rochester and St. Cloud, too), Salvation Army volunteers and the U of M's Department of Emergency Management.

What truly touches my heart, to this day, are the countless citizens who helped. In my opinion, the best in humanity often shines through the most severe tragedy. ...


One minute, on the drive home; the next, on an island of concrete

I was coming home from a meeting in northeast Minneapolis and going south on 35W. The traffic was heavy and only going about 15-20 miles per hour.

I was talking to Lisa on my cell phone as I went on the bridge and saw a semi truck trailer "hopping" up and down wildly to my left in the construction lanes of the highway. As I looked straight ahead, the car in front of me was braking and then I saw the whole bridge deck in front of me drop below my eyesight. Then the road deck started to slant toward the river. I immediately put my foot on the brake and pushed it very hard.

I told Lisa that something really bad had happened and that the bridge was gone and I had to go! ...

There were about four other motorists with me and about five road construction workers standing and watching in amazement of the horrific event that had just happened before our eyes. ... Everything was very quiet with the exception of one construction worker who was distraught over seeing a co-worker who had just slipped over the edge of the bridge roadway. (I believe he was the one fatality of the construction workers). ...

One of the construction workers yelled that this "island" of bridge deck is probably not safe and we need to get out of here. He signaled us over to an area of the highway where it was possible for us to crawl from the southbound lanes to the northbound lanes. This was a little scary since the gap between the roadways was 3 feet wide and the crevice went down some 40 feet. I was the last person to go over and was pulled by one of the construction workers.


All of our lives were changed in a matter of simply seconds

On Aug. 1, 2007, Minnesotans' lives were changed forever. No matter if you traveled the 35W bridge or just knew where it was, it had an effect on your life. A structure that we all have used at one point was no longer there. It was now in millions of pieces floating down the Mississippi River.

I remember walking down to the bridge on Aug. 2 and seeing all the people looking at it, wishing that there was something that we could do. We all sat there with tears in our eyes as we saw a piece of what was said to be safe, lying in crumbles.

My thoughts and prayers are with the families who are still dealing with the loss of a loved one.


One of so many frantic phone calls to find our loved ones

I had just arrived at my church for choir practice. Everyone was buzzing about the bridge collapse, but I hadn't heard about it.

"Where is that bridge, exactly?" I asked, explaining that I thought my daughter's workplace was nearby. "Oh, it's not near there," said someone. I still wasn't sure.

During a break in practice, I dashed out to the car, grabbed a metro map and discovered, to my horror, that her workplace was adjacent to the west end of the bridge. She biked on the trail beneath the bridge every Wednesday after work. Aug. 1 was a Wednesday.

After choir, I dashed home; no phone messages. I started calling and found her at a friend's house. She'd e-mailed me, not called, to say she was OK. She would have been biking on the trail, but she'd decided to meet friends for a drink after work. So close.


Recognizing a truck on the bridge made the world come to a stop

The phone rang as I was watching the TV in horror, and my brother said, "Sarah, Jeff [Ringate] is working on that bridge." As he said it, Jeff's white pickup flashed on the screen. My entire world stopped and I thought of his expectant wife and their newborn daughter.

The flattened pieces of the bridge spanned across my screen and I thought, "There is NO way that he's making it." And David said, "Sarah, it's Jeff. He'll be OK. IT'S JEFF, Sarah. He'll be OK."

We received word much later that evening that Jeff, one of the construction workers, was at a hospital and had made it OK. One of his close friends and co-workers had not been so fortunate. ...


Asking the what-ifs: A small favor could very well have saved a life

I was in the middle of a cell phone call in between classes to a friend of mine -- who had just gotten home and was heading out back on 35W to his girlfriend's place when I called -- and asked him about a restaurant, so he had to look it up online.

I am not saying that my phone call changed anything for him, but I know that he didn't get hurt. ...


Relaying news of the tragedy, again and again and again

Teaching an evening MBA class at the university, I was giving my final exam the night the bridge fell. Another professor came to my classroom to tell me what had happened. I did not want to disrupt the students during their exam by announcing the bad news -- how could one concentrate with such tragedy in our back yard?

So I stood outside the classroom and as each student departed, told them about the bridge. It was so hard to get those words out, over and over for each student. Our evening students drive to the U from every corner of the Twin Cities, and many of them cross that bridge coming and going from campus.

I had very mixed emotions that night -- gratitude that all of my students were safe, and horror at the images immediately available online.


Daughter had a chance to say goodbye, but the victims didn't

I am writing this in memory of my daughter, Sue Belan, who died of cervical cancer on Sept. 9, 2007. She was a patient at the university hospital at the time of the bridge collapse. As sick as she was, she said to me, "Mom, I know that I'm going to die, but all those people on the bridge never had a chance." Right to the end, she was concerned about other people!

... Because of the wonderful communication tool of CaringBridge, I have been following the lives of several people that were injured on that bridge. In addition to the physical injuries, there are a lot of emotional and psychological problems that each one must overcome. It seems to be a "new normal" for them as it must be for those who lost loved ones.

Let us continue to keep them in our thoughts and prayers.