MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It was a quiet evening in the WCCO newsroom on Aug. 1, 2007.
The 6 p.m. newscast had just begun. It was business as usual.
“We first heard over the police radio talk of a bridge collapse, a 911 call that came in, and we were thinking maybe it was like a sinkhole, like a large pothole. I was in the newsroom and I just got up and left,” said WCCO This Morning anchor Jason DeRusha. “My heart was pounding that whole ride over here because I could hear all of the squad cars and the ambulances coming behind us, and that’s when you know something really, really serious happened.”
Amelia Santaniello was anchoring the 6 p.m. show when the Interstate 35W Bridge collapsed into the Mississippi River.
“We had Jason down there, I think Jason was one of the first on the air, Darcy [Pohland] was there, Terri Gruca, and [Jason said] the bridge has collapsed,” Santaniello said.
Ten years later, the images live in DeRusha’s head and his heart.
“When we got here it was still. And you could see people coming up from the river. You could see people carrying … bloodied people out of the river,” he said.
Aug. 1 was John Lauritsen’s first day on air as a reporter.
“It was my first week at WCCO, it was my third day at the station, but my first day on-air,” Lauritsen said.
He had just landed his dream job, and a nightmare unfolded
“I think the image that sticks out in my head isn’t even of the bridge, it’s of the man I interviewed who lost his wife,” Lauritsen said. “That one really sticks out, I can still remember his face.”
That man was Ronald Engebretsen. His wife, Sherry Engebretsen, was driving home for dinner when the bridge buckled beneath her.
“She’s a fighter. My wife’s a fighter, and she will do everything she can to work herself out of a situation,” Engebretsen said.
Santaniello says it was hard to conceal her emotions as the tragedy unfolded.
“The video that really got me is when you see the school bus there kind of hanging, and you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, please save those kids. Are they going to be able to save those kids?'” Santaniello said. “You’re working and you’re just in that professional mode and you can’t [stop] because when you stop to think about … what just happened, I think you’d break down because you think of all those lives, the families, everybody who’s affected by that.”
DeRusha says he will never forgot speaking with Jeremy Hernandez.
“That interview with him, I can remember just about everything he said,” DeRusha said. “I asked him, ‘How many kids did you help?’ And he looked at me and said, ‘All of them.'”
Through the pain, the fear, the bafflement of the day — there was another storyline our journalists could not ignore.
“People really trying to help out anybody who was affected by this, so … if there’s a silver lining, that was it,” Lauritsen said.
Santaniello says the tragedy ultimately brought out the best in people.
“There was even a lot of community kindness … when you go through something like that,” Santaniello said. “It puts everything sort of into perspective, and you’re more kind to everybody.”
DeRusha says there were countless heroes that day.
“We know if something should happen, we won’t stop and pause and think that we’ll act. We’ll act like Jeremy did, we’ll act like those firefighters did, that everybody who was … they didn’t think about themselves,” DeRusha said. “It was a remarkable night.”
Officials were speculating in the first hours after the collapse that more than 100 people had died, given the amount of traffic on the bridge at that time of day.
In the end, 13 people lost their lives.