Bridge collapse in northwest US plunges drivers into icy river

Two drivers in hospital with hypothermia after being pulled from the water beneath bridge on main road from Seattle to Vancouver in Canada

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 May, 2013, 3:07am

Part of a bridge on an expressway in the US northwest collapsed, throwing cars and their drivers into a freezing river.

Two of the three people rescued from the river were admitted to hospital with hypothermia, said Given Kutz, a spokesman for Skagit County in the northern part of Washington state.

There were apparently no fatalities. "They [rescuers] don't expect anyone else in the water," he said.

Authorities were awaiting confirmation on the cause of the collapse, said a second Skagit County spokesman, Jim Martin.

Local media reported it might have been caused by a truck striking the structure. It was not raining at the time, Washington State Patrol spokesman Trooper Mark Francis said.

The bridge is on the Interstate 5 freeway 90 kilometres north of Seattle. The freeway is the main corridor for traffic between Seattle and Vancouver, Canada.

The four-lane bridge was built in 1955, according to the National Bridge Inventory database.

Television images showed onlookers gathered at the bank of the Skagit River, calmly watching the rescue attempts.

"The currents of the river are really rough. It's cold," Barbara Williams, who lives nearby, told Seattle station KOMO-TV.

Thursday's collapse came at a time when state lawmakers are debating a proposed US$8.4 billion transport funding package that Washington state Governor Jay Inslee has championed, along with fellow Democrats, in the state legislature.

According to the National Bridge Inventory, the bridge was deemed "functionally obsolete" as recently as 2010. That does not mean it is unsafe, however. It could mean that its design is outdated-that its lanes or shoulders are too narrow, for example.

The American Society of Civil Engineers' 2013 infrastructure report card gave Washington state a C overall and a C minus for its bridges. The state's own report said about 95 per cent of its bridges were rated as good or fair, with 5 per cent considered poor, in 2011.

Repairing and updating deficient bridges have been part of the national conversation at least since 2007, when a highway bridge over the Mississippi collapsed in Minneapolis. Thirteen people were killed and 145 hurt.

Additional reporting by The New York Times