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Minneapolis's 35W bridge, which collapsed in 2007, lights up in Maryland colors in show of support of Baltimore

Baltimore bridge collapse brings up memories of 35W disaster
Baltimore bridge collapse brings up memories of 35W disaster 02:21

MINNEAPOLIS — For many in Minnesota, Tuesday's major bridge collapse in Baltimore is bringing back traumatic memories of the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge in downtown Minneapolis more than 16 years ago.

In that August 2007 tragedy, 13 people lost their lives after the bridge suddenly collapsed into the Mississippi River, and 145 more people were injured. The bridge was under construction at the time of the crash, but the moment of failure happened at the height of the afternoon rush hour.

More than 100 vehicles were involved in the collapse. The occupants of those vehicles, along with 18 construction workers, fell as far as 115 feet into the river below, or onto its banks.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Minnesota Department of Transportation said that the bridge will be lit up in Maryland's state colors of red, black and yellow.

The circumstances surrounding Baltimore's incident are, of course, much different than the 35W bridge collapse. The Baltimore collapse is still under investigation, and it will be for some time, but early reports indicate that the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore collapsed after a support column was struck by a large container ship that had lost power. The ship — the Singapore-flagged Dali — was operated by charter vessel company Synergy Marine Group and was chartered by Maersk, carrying Maersk customers' cargo.

The collapse sent vehicles and people into the Patapsco River.

In the 2007 incident, the investigation found that faulty gusset plates were to blame. That discovery led to bridge investigations across the country and the design of a new 35W bridge.

35W bridge survivors react to tragedy in Baltimore

A survivor of the 35W bridge collapse and a loved one of a woman who died are reflecting on that day more than 16 years later.

Garrett Ebling says the people in Baltimore are likely numb right now and at the beginning of a long grieving process.

Ebling's car plunged 100 feet into the Mississippi River on that day in 2007.

He was in the hospital for two months, enduring half a dozen surgeries.

"That day sort of becomes this marker, and there's your life before that trauma, then there's the life after," Ebling said.

Ebling's found that talking about what happened was a big step toward his emotional recovery.

"Hopefully [impacted families in Baltimore] have a great care network and people there to help them through this, because there will be a lot of dark days ahead unfortunately with something like this," he said.

Ron Engebretsen says the 35W tragedy left an emptiness inside. He spoke to his wife, Sherry, just 20 minutes before she died.

"Hug your wife, hug your children," he said. "Tell them you love them and you always care for them. Life is so short and so quick. You just pray for each of these families now. They will know that they're loved and cared for and the Heavenly Father's caring for them each and every step of the way."

Survivor of 35W bridge collapse reacts to Baltimore tragedy 02:20

MnDOT affirms commitment to bridge safety

A year after the 35W bridge collapse, the state government invested more than $2 billion over 10 years to repair or replace 172 structurally deficient bridges. More recently, the DFL-led legislature voted to raise several taxes to raise billions more for transportation, much of it for infrastructure.

A MnDOT spokesperson told WCCO that bridges are inspected at least once every two years. There are also 11 state emergency response teams ready to assist and train local fire crews in responding to bridge fires and ensuring the site's complete safety before allowing traffic to resume.

"In partnership with local and federal partners, we have comprehensive emergency plans should a bridge sustain a hit and require rescue operations. For bridges over bodies of water in Minnesota, we put safety measures in place to both prevent any direct hit to the bridge and to mitigate any risk to the structure through our design should it sustain a collision," the spokesperson said. "A key component of ensuring safety is being able to update aging infrastructure. We are thankful to our state and federal partners for their recent investment in transportation infrastructure – including U.S. DOT's recent $1 billion investment in the Blatnik Bridge."

The Blatnik is one of only two bridges that cross over navigable waters carrying ocean vessels in Minnesota, the other being the Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge connecting Duluth with Superior, Wisconsin.

The agency said, in the last 20 years, they're aware of two impacts to bridges from water vessels. Roughly 15 years ago, the Lexington Bridge along 35E across the Mississippi River had minor damage from a barge impact. Also, in 2018, the new Winona bridge, also over the Mississippi, was also struck by a barge and had some concrete repairs done.

Minnesota officials offer words of support

A number of Minnesota officials were quick to offer their support to Baltimore residents Tuesday morning. Gov. Tim Walz tweeted that the news out of Maryland was "heart-wrenching," adding "As we pray for the people of Maryland, we're offering any resources they may need as they grapple with this tragedy."

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey also referenced the bridge collapse, saying residents in the city know what it feels like to endure that "all too well."

Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith also offered words of comfort to the rescuers and people of Baltimore. Klobuchar said, "Such a horrible tragedy in Baltimore. When the I-35W bridge collapsed in Minnesota, so many people rushed to the scene and helped. Thankful for the Coast Guard and all the first responders." Smith offered, "This bridge collapse brings back tough memories for Minnesotans. One of the hardest days of all my time in public service was when the I-35W bridge collapsed into the Mississippi River. My thoughts are with Baltimore and the loved ones of anyone still missing."

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