- The Washington Times - Friday, August 3, 2007

Angela Carson, a graduate of the University of Minnesota who works as a public relations executive in the District, remembers getting caught in horrendous midday traffic last month on Minneapolis’ Interstate 35W bridge.

“I was surprised because they were shutting everything down to one lane, and I remember thinking that this is major; they must really have to do this work,” Miss Carson said of the repair work being done on the span.

A section of the bridge over the Mississippi River collapsed during rush-hour traffic Wednesday evening, killing at least four persons. Road crews were making repairs to the bridge when it buckled.

Miss Carson says she thinks the repair work, with its inconvenient lane closures, on the eight-lane span probably forced drivers to change their commuting routes — and that rerouting may have saved more lives when the I-35W bridge collapsed.

“In some way, now I’m thankful that [traffic] was down to one lane,” said Miss Carson, who was in the Minneapolis area last month to make arrangements with her parents for her Aug. 11 wedding to Capitol Hill staffer Edward Mills. She flies back to the region on Sunday.

The death toll was expected to rise as emergency personnel moved from a rescue to a recovery mission yesterday. An estimated 30 people, including one construction worker, were missing after about 50 vehicles plummeted into the Mississippi River.

At least 79 injured persons were taken to hospitals. Our condolences go out to grieving families.

Yesterday, Miss Carson was understandably “a little distracted.” However, she had fellow alumnus Byron Johnson to empathize with her.

In a scene undoubtedly played out in offices and elsewhere throughout this region of transients, the young social marketing executives at Hager Sharpe Inc. spent the day looking for news updates, contacting friends and family and checking on each other.

“The first thing this morning, Byron came to my office and asked, ‘Is everybody you know OK?’ ” Miss Carson said.

She added that “when something like that happens, it’s good to have someone around who knows the lay of the land.”

The pair decided that the tragedy of the collapse was probably minimized by the weather. They said that many commuters leave work earlier in the afternoon during summer because the season is so short.

“An hour earlier, [the bridge collapse] would have been a whole lot worse. It’s nothing short of a miracle that only four people were killed,” Mr. Johnson said.

Miss Carson said she learned of the bridge collapse when a friend called to ask whether she had talked to her parents. She naturally assumed it was a problem with the wedding.

The first thing she did was call her father and brother, who were attending a Minnesota Twins baseball game at the Metrodome, which meant they would have to drive I-35W.

All the phone lines were busy, so she text-messaged them. They were fine.

Then she did what Mr. Johnson and others did: She began text-messaging everyone she knows in the area.

While we were talking yesterday afternoon, Miss Carson was relieved to receive an e-mail informing her that a former classmate’s sister who had been unaccounted for was found unharmed.

Like Miss Carson, Mr. Johnson said many Minneapolis residents don’t really think of the I-35W’s 1,900-foot-long, 64-foot-high span as a bridge.

A Minneapolis native, Mr. Johnson, 33, said he always has been afraid to drive over bridges, but he never considered the I-35W’s section over the Mississippi a bridge.

“We think of it as the interstate, and I couldn’t really piece together in my mind where [my friend] was talking about,” said Miss Carson, who originally is from North Dakota.

“To watch that, I was floored. It took awhile to register. I’ve been over it so many times a day, you forget that you’re going over the Mississippi River,” Mr. Johnson said.

Yesterday, he tried to contact friends for their whereabouts once he determined that his mother and siblings were safe.

Mr. Johnson said he plans to return to his hometown sooner than his scheduled Labor Day vacation.

In the meantime, he is looking for ways he can help with the relief and recovery efforts long distance.

He said he is “100 percent certain” that the University of Minnesota’s alumni association will set up a relief fund. A friend e-mailed him with several notices seeking help, including one for a blood drive and another for the American Red Cross’ survivors locator site (disastersafe.redcross.org).

Fighting “a morbid mind-set,” Mr. Johnson said now comes the waiting because “you know there are still people in the water, and you hope that it’s no one that you haven’t heard from yet.”

Take some consolation, said Miss Carson. As she watched press reports nonstop yesterday, she could not help but think about how the Minnesota community rallied to help after the September 11 terrorist attacks and the Virginia Tech shootings.

“It was shocking how that could have happened, like the sinking of the Titanic. Something indestructible failed, and it’s not something that should fail,” Miss Carson said of the interstate bridge. “But I was also struck by the sense of community that is prevalent in the Midwest. And that was heartening to me.”

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