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Bridge Collapse Victims Reflect On Tragedy And Loss

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(credit: CBS) Bill Hudson
Bill Hudson has been with WCCO-TV since 1989. The native of Elk Rive...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – It was a day of tragedy that forever changed Minnesota.

Five years ago Wednesday, the 35W bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis collapsed, killing 13 people and injuring 145 others.

The tragedy happened at 6:05 p.m., during the middle of rush hour. Federal investigators ultimately blamed a flaw with the bridge’s design for its collapse.

5 Years Later: The Safety Of Minn.’s Bridges

The images of death and destruction that stretched along the river seem impossible to forget.

“It’s a day we always need to remember and reflect on what really happened,” said Ron Engebretsen.

Engebretsen was at home preparing dinner with his two daughters on Aug. 1, 2007, awaiting the arrival of his wife, Sherry, who died in the tragedy.

“We know that we all need to move forward in our lives and…when tragedy happens to our families or yourself, it’s how you respond to those tragedies,” Engebretsen said.

Engebretsen was among those at a Wednesday screening of the film, “One Day in August.” He says his faith is helping him live on without a sense of anger.

“You think about all the positive things…you move forward with life,” he said.

Honoring the anniversary is also a time to honor the heroics of those who came to his wife’s aid.

“We just are thankful for all the responders that cared for Sherry and all the other victims that day as well,” Engebretsen said.

Through his grief and sadness, Engebretsen has forged new beginnings while remembering what he had and acknowledging what life still has to give.

“Our family chose to move on,” he said.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, doctors, nurses and total strangers lined up inside the Hennepin County Medical Center gift shop to greet a former patient.

Garrett Ebling spent months in the hospital and many more recovering from the severe physical and emotional scars of the bridge collapse.

“I really felt that the survivor’s story needed to be told,” Ebling said.

To help with his recovery the former journalist wrote “Collapsed,” a book detailing the tragedy from the victim’s point of view.

“To be able to write my story, to be able talk to other survivors and incorporate their stories in the book, I think helps people understand what that experience was like,” he said.

Another bridge collapse survivor is best remembered for rescuing a school bus packed with kids.

Kim Dahl was the driver of the bus, which held 61 kids and staff members from Waite House Community Center, that plunged 45 feet down a collapsed piece of roadway. To mark the anniversary, she also attended a screening of the film.

“People don’t understand that we are not 100 percent,” Dahl said. “People aren’t well and doing well.”

She described the community of bridge collapse victims as a family.

“It brings us all together,” she said.

Gov. Mark Dayton ordered flags across the state to fly at half-staff Wednesday in honor and remembrance of the lives lost in the disaster.

A new, state-of-the-art bridge now stands at the location where the bridge fell.

New Exhibit Remembers Survivors Of 35W Bridge Collapse

There were several observances slated for Wednesday to commemorate the collapse. Three local arts organizations created a musical composition, a short play and five poems to be debuted during a late afternoon program at Mill City Museum near the bridge site. The event coincides with the time of the rush hour collapse.

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