Woman Witnesses Bridge Collapse into River

Courtney Jensen was parking her car Wednesday under the 10th Ave. bridge in Minneapolis when the Interstate 35 bridge, which runs parallel, collapsed. She says that some witnesses thought it might have been planned at first, then realized it wasn't.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

Divers are searching the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, and a huge rescue effort is underway after a massive bridge collapsed there tonight. The entire span of the I-35 West Bridge over the Mississippi River buckled and collapsed into the river at the height of the evening rush hour.

All four lanes of the bridge crashed into the Mississippi. Dozens of cars are reported to have been on the span at the time. There are unconfirmed reports of at least three fatalities.

The 40-year-old bridge had been undergoing repairs this summer. And we're joined now by Courtney Jensen in Minneapolis.

And Ms. Jensen, where you were at the time of this collapsed, please?

Ms. COURTNEY JENSEN: We were just parking in a parking lot right underneath the 10th Avenue Bridge, which is parallel to that bridge, right next to it, to 35 W. We just heard this loud, almost like a thunderous, loud boom. And I turned over and I saw the bridge go down. And at first, it's like, I screamed, oh, my God. Call 911. I couldn't believe, you know, that's 35 W. And someone next to me goes, well, they're doing construction, maybe that was, you know, I'm like no, that's the river. It's in the river.

And as you looked up, you could see the cars almost like trying to turn back as the road was going into the river.

BLOCK: Could you tell how many cars actually crashed into the river when that bridge fell down?

Ms. JENSEN: No. But that road leading to that has been single lane, because they're doing that resurfacing work. And so it has been bopped up. So I imagined - it's usually pretty much stocked during this time of day, the cars on the traffic.

BLOCK: Did you - where you were, about 100 yards away - did you see rescue people bringing survivors out either from the water or from the area leading up to the bridge, which also collapsed?

Ms. JENSEN: Yeah. Well, actually, what we saw was, we moved to a different area immediately and we saw - there was actually pieces of the bridge still intact in the water, so, like, there was a road on the water. And there was cars still sitting there just as if it would have been on the road, and there were people we could see standing on there, who were - we are still (unintelligible) on the cars. You know, there was a lot of people running to that area. But there is definitely a few survivors that were on that part of the bridge.

BLOCK: So let me get this straight. This is a section of the bridge that fell into the river - it didn't sink. Actually, it stayed on the surface with cars right on top of it.

Ms. JENSEN: Yup. They were just like parked right on top of it, yup.

BLOCK: At one point, there were cars on fire. Did you see that?

Ms. JENSEN: Yup. Actually, my - we ended up - we got out of the way, we went into my building. If you see the picture, this is the great tall building overlooking - that's where I live. And we went and you can see over it. And we saw cars started on fire. It was - one of them, hanging over. So...

BLOCK: Hanging over the span, about to go over the river?

Ms. JENSEN: Yup. Yeah. That's what it looked like. And then, I believe the large semi that's also was going over. But just the amount of people that are around here, it was just crazy.

BLOCK: Ms. Jensen, where are you right now?

Ms. JENSEN: In my building. That's right next to the area.

BLOCK: And can you see anything from your windows? Do you look out over the river itself?

Ms. JENSEN: No. I look out on the other side. My neighbor is on the side, look over to the river. So we're on the other side. We just are seeing the emergency personnel clear our street right now. Where we were actually standing and where we parked our cars, they've all closed that off. No one can get to it at all.

BLOCK: And this bridge would be a major thoroughfare in between the two cities?

Ms. JENSEN: Major, yes. I - literally, I'm thinking how am I going to get anywhere, because it's how you get into the city from the north side, basically. That's - and they're talking about there's a Minnesota Twins' game going on right now and that's major interstate to get to the Metro Dome. So there was all that traffic, too, getting in - going to the game.

BLOCK: Well, Ms. Jensen, it's good of you to take the time to talk with us. Thanks for telling us what you saw.

Ms. JENSEN: Yeah. I just thank the emergency personnel because they're doing a great job here in Minneapolis right now.

BLOCK: Thanks very much.

That's Courtney Jensen. She was parking her car about 100 yards away from the I-35 West Bridge in Minneapolis, when that bridge collapsed into the Mississippi River just after 6 o'clock this evening, local time.

We'll be following this story through the evening and tomorrow on MORNING EDITION and you can read more at npr.org.

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