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Minneapolis Bridge Collapse 911 Tapes Reveal Terror, Confusion

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Just moments after the Minneapolis Bridge collapse, the Minneapolis Emergency Communications Center began receiving hundreds of frantic 911 calls. Tapes of those calls released over the weekend reveal the shock and horror felt by those on or near the I-35 W Bridge when it fell into the Mississippi River, as well as the confusion the calls created for 911 dispatchers as they struggled to comprehend the scale of the disaster.

Just two minutes after the Minneapolis Bridge collapse, the communications center logged 100 emergency calls. At the news conference where the tapes were released, 911 supervisor Maryam Williams admitted that dispatchers had trouble understanding the enormity of the catastrophe they faced. “Even in my mind, when somebody told me the bridge collapsed, I’m still thinking a car flipped over into the water.” But deluged with so many calls in such a short time, the dispatchers’ disbelief soon dissolved, Williams said.

The tapes themselves paint a picture of the confusion and terror felt by the people who placed the 911 calls. One victim of the Minneapolis Bridge collapse tried frantically to explain the situation to a dispatcher. “I’m on like a little island part in the middle. There’s a lot of people here too,” the caller said. “And I think there could be people trapped in cars is what I’m really worried about.”

The 911 center also received a call from someone who had been contacted by a person trapped in a school bus that was stuck on the collapsed I-35 W Bridge. “Oh my God,” he said. “Where can we go so we can make sure that we get there? Because there are children on that bus.” When asked if the bus was in the river, the caller frantically replied “I don’t know! I don’t know!” In the end, everyone on the school bus was rescued.

The I-35 W Bridge collapsed on August 1, at 6:05 p.m. It was the height of Minneapolis’ evening rush hour, and cars were lined up bumper-to- bumper across the span. At least 88 vehicles and hundreds of people fell 60 feet into the Mississippi River below. Thirteen people died as a result of the disaster, and 100 others were injured. The final victim of the Minneapolis Bridge Collapse was not pulled from the river until August 21.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating the Minneapolis Bridge collapse. NTSB investigators are said to be looking at several factors that could have contributed to the demise of the I-35 W Bridge, including possible corrosive properties of de-icing chemicals used on the span. The NTSB is also said to be investigating the extra weight construction vehicles might have placed on the bridge, as well as a possible design flaw in the Minneapolis Bridge’s steel gusset plates. However, the NTSB has said that it could be a year or more before the investigation yields any answers.

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