Doubt, Pain Linger After Minn. Bridge Fall

This is the scene of the collapsed 35W bridge over the Mississippi River Thursday, Aug. 2, 2007, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
AP Photo/Morry Gash
It was just past 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2007, when the Interstate 35W bridge buckled and fell into the Mississippi River. Thirteen people died.

One year later, the bridge's replacement is nearly finished, but the investigation is not. Many of the 145 people injured in the collapse are still struggling to rebuild their lives - physically, financially and emotionally.

And Minnesota, along with the rest of the country, is still struggling to address the infrastructure needs laid bare by the catastrophe.

The Survivors

There's only one span across the river Karge Olsen trusts - the Ford Parkway bridge between Minneapolis and St. Paul, where traffic never seems to stop.

Olsen panics when it does. A year ago, he was stuck on the I-35W bridge when it gave way.

His father-in-law, Glen Legus, wrote a poem describing how Olsen's Jeep Compass "crumpled like a soft aluminum can."

Olsen is still on crutches from his latest operation, the sixth since October, with a cast encasing his left foot. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and broke his collarbone, two neck vertebrae and four bones in his foot. His shoulder separated. So did his left big toe.

He and others are preparing claims from a $37 million victims' fund created by the Legislature, even though settlements won't come until next year. Olsen is also trying to raise money to help other victims by selling a self-published book called "Bridges Don't Fall Down." It contains poems about the victims and stories about Olsen's life since the collapse.

"I'm willing and ready to admit that I'm in pain every day. It's pretty terrible, to be honest with you," Olsen said at a St. Paul cafe near the one bridge he dares to drive. "But I am here. I am speaking with you. I'm very fortunate. And there are some that aren't as fortunate as I, and others that had no fortune that day."

Meanwhile, a year ago, Kim Dahl was driving a bus full of campers, including two of her own children. It plunged 60 feet before stopping, and dangled just inches from the river, reports CBS News correspondent Bianca Solorzano. Dahl's injuries are slowly improving, but she's just now starting to bear the full emotional toll.

"I live a block from a park, or from a school, and when the kids are playing on the playground screaming, laughing, having fun, to me that's kids crying out for help, they're on the bus, they're falling, they're screaming, I hear that," Dahl told Solorzano.

Dahl's 11-year-old daughter Arrianna still feels the helplessness of waiting outside the bus while rescuers desperately tried to free her mother from the wreckage, Solorzano reports.

"Well it's like you're supposed to stay by your mom and I wanted to stay by her the whole time," Arrianna said.

Her friend Olivia Reynolds can't understand why sometimes it seems she's right back at that horrible moment.

"I just kind of have flashbacks of it when it was happening," she said. "In my nightmares I just relive it over and over."

The Bridge Engineer

Amid the design awards in the Minnesota bridge headquarters display case in Oakdale is a simple glass memento marking 2007 as "A Year of Crisis."

Dan Dorgan can attest to that.

For the state's chief bridge engineer, word of the I-35W collapse brought disbelief. The sight of the wreckage brought horror. The days, weeks and months after brought intense scrutiny for Dorgan and his team.

"It's the type of thing we spend our careers trying to make sure does not occur," said Dorgan, 55, who joined the transportation department as a college intern in the 1970s and rose to the top bridge job in 2000. "Yet, it did."

Dorgan found himself thrust before television cameras, bombarded with questions about what was done to safeguard the bridge and what signals of impending disaster might have been missed. He labored to convert his technical knowledge into language ordinary citizens could understand.

After the spotlight faded, Dorgan remained in demand by investigators working for the federal government, a state auditor, a law firm hired by legislators and others.

However tough things got, Dorgan said he knew victims and their families had it worse. He resolved to see the investigations through.

"That is not something you would want to leave to somebody else to have to pick up," he said. "The bridge did collapse while I was the state bridge engineer so I feel I need to deal with it."

In the past year, thousands of Minnesota bridges received extra inspections, with Dorgan and his team ordering three crossings closed pending further review because of designs similar to the I-35W bridge. One is shuttered until replacement.

"Daily we spend time dealing with the aftermath of I-35W. I'm not complaining," he said. "That's natural of tragedy of this proportion."