Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A look back at the day the 35W bridge fell down in Minneapolis August 1, 2017

Crossing the new Interstate 35W bridge near downtown Minneapolis. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

TEN YEARS AGO TODAY at 6:05 p.m. our perception of safety on bridges changed. The Interstate 35W bridge over the Mississippi River near downtown Minneapolis collapsed during rush hour on August 1, 2007. Thirteen people died. One hundred and forty-five were injured.

 

Garrett with his mom, Joyce Resoft, about a month after the bridge collapse. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2007 courtesy of Garrett’s family.

 

As news broke of the bridge collapse, I expect many a Minnesotan (myself included) worried whether a loved one may have been on that bridge when it fell. None of my family were. But Garrett Ebling, who had recently worked as editor of the daily paper in my community, was driving on the bridge. Among the most seriously hurt, he suffered a traumatic brain injury and more.

 

This photo shows the opening spread of the feature article published in the November/December 2007 issue of Minnesota Moments. Casey McGovern of Minneapolis shot the bridge collapse scene. To the far left is Garrett before the collapse, to the right, his rescuer. The next photo shows his Ford Focus which plummeted into the Mississippi River. And to the right are Garrett and Sonja (his then fiancee), before the collapse.

 

At the time, I was writing for a Minnesota lifestyles magazine and, because of my Faribault connection to Garrett, interviewed him (via emailed questions) while he recovered. Garrett’s determination, tenacity, patience and faith impressed me. He showed incredible strength.

 

A section of the then now wow exhibit at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul features the 35W bridge collapse. This image shows the collapsed bridge and the emergency exit door from a school bus that was on the bridge when it collapsed. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

Since then Garrett has written a book, become a father and eventually also gone through a divorce. I can only imagine the toll a traumatic event like this takes on a relationship.

 

All the children and adults on the bus signed the door on display. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Today, on the ten-year anniversary of the 35W bridge collapse, I am thinking of Garrett and all the others who survived. I am thinking also of the 13 who died on a metropolitan roadway on a bridge that failed. I am thinking of the families. I am thinking of the bystanders and of the first responders who helped save lives.

 

Crossing the new 35W bridge. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

And I am thinking how this tragedy forever changed us as Minnesotans. With the failure of that bridge, we lost a certain sense of security. But we also gained an appreciation for each other and for the strength of the human spirit. We were a united Minnesota, standing strong in the face of an unfathomable tragedy. There is something to be said for unifying moments like that in which we forget our differences and focus instead on caring for each other. On August 1, 2007, we experienced such a moment. We were one Minnesota.

 

FYI: Click here to read several poems published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on the five-year anniversary of the bridge collapse in 2012. My poem, Quotes from a survivor, is among them.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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23 Responses to “A look back at the day the 35W bridge fell down in Minneapolis”

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    Hard to believe it has been 10 years. Time certainly has flown by since that horrible day. Thanks for the reminder that when we need to band together for one another it can happen.

  2. Just talking about this the other day – still gives me chills. We were not in MN at the time, but we pulled and prayed for all involved that day. Such a tragedy, but such a strength of unification too. Sending prayers and Take Cares to all.

  3. Almost Iowa Says:

    What amazes me is that over almost half century that bridge stood, no one caught the original design error of insufficient gusset plates.

    Prior to its collapse, the bridge was scored a sufficiency rating of 50 on a 1-100 scale. Only 4% of the bridges in country rated that low. It was known to be structurally deficit – even without understanding the original error.

    At the time of the collapse, I was regularly commuting over the Lafayette bridge in Saint Paul, knowing what the underside of that bridge looked like, I never drove across it again.

    • You certainly know a lot more about the bridge situation than I do. That’s some scary data you’ve shared here. Has the Lafayette bridge been repaired/replaced? I’m unfamiliar with all the metro bridges.

      • Almost Iowa Says:

        Yes, the Lafayette bridge has been replaced. I remember when the 21A bus had to stop at the Lake Street bridge and the riders had to walk to meet a bus on the other side. You also had to be careful not to fall through the wooden sidewalk. It is all new and spiffy now. (hope it is paid for) 🙂

      • You are a wealth of knowledge, albeit sometimes frightening.

  4. Littlesundog Says:

    It is good to remember how community, state and country can pull together in helping and healing.

  5. I, too, can’t believe it’s 10 years already. I drove across that bridge the day it collapsed, but was lucky to have done so a few hours earlier. Since we live in Roseville, our first inkling that something was terribly wrong was hearing heavy helicopters nearby and noticing that they were hovering over the scene. Then my son called me from his job at the Mall of America and said, Mom, turn on the tv. The 35W bridge just fell down. Immediately after that, my friend from Arizona called to make sure I was safely at home. What an eerie, horrible day that was. What a jolt to all our trust in our bridges being able to hold us.

  6. Valerie Says:

    I remember this day…it is a bridge I used to cross over a lot to go see my mom. It is good to think back and remember…thanks for jogging the memories.

  7. Go Grandma Says:

    Such a sad day – one I’ll never forget. Since that day, I’ve never crossed a Minnesota bridge without thinking about it. Feeling grateful to have been standing on a soccer field sideline instead of heading downtown. God Bless.

  8. Susan Ready Says:

    Nice tribute and yes it was a scary event that shook everyone all around the world and indeed shattered our sense of security. To this day every time I drive over a bridge I am reminded of this collapse.

  9. Thanks for the eloquent review of the bridge tragedy. Of course we were shocked and we followed it on the news and I remember the school bus, but it was “your” bridge. So, I appreciate that you have not forgotten and that I can be part of the rememberance

  10. Wow. I still remember watching this break on our evening news. It doesn’t seem that long ago. Heartbreaking how split seconds in our lives change them forever.


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