- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 29, 2007

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — A heavily traveled section of freeway that funnels traffic off the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge collapsed yesterday after a gasoline tanker truck overturned and erupted into flames, authorities said.

Flames shot 200 feet into the air and the heat was intense enough to melt part of the freeway and cause the collapse, but the truck’s driver walked away from the scene with second-degree burns. No other injuries were reported.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Officer Trent Cross of the California Highway Patrol said of the crumpled interchange. “I’m looking at this thinking, ‘Wow, no one died’ — that’s amazing. It’s just very fortunate.”

Authorities said the damage could take months to repair, and that it would cause the worst disruption for Bay Area commuters since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake damaged a section of the Bay Bridge.

Nearly 75,000 vehicles use the portion of the road every day. Because the accident occurred where three highways converge, authorities said, it could cause commuting problems for hundreds of thousands of people.

Transportation officials said they added trains to the Bay Area Rapid Transit light-rail system that takes commuters across San Francisco Bay, and were urging people to telecommute if possible. State officials warned of nightmarish commutes for those who tried to drive alternate routes.

The tanker carrying 8,600 gallons of gasoline ignited about 3:45 a.m. after crashing into a pylon on the interchange, which connects westbound lanes of Interstate 80 to southbound I-880, on the edge of downtown Oakland about a half-mile from the Bay Bridge’s toll plaza.

A preliminary investigation indicated that he may have been speeding on the curving road, Officer Cross said.

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