OAKDALE, Minn. (WCCO) — More than six years after it plunged into the Mississippi River, survivors are claiming their pieces of the Interstate 35W Bridge.
“We weren’t down below where all the bad stuff took place,” said Brent Olson, 64, from White Bear Lake, a bridge collapse survivor. “Just seeing this stuff up close makes me think what went through their minds?”
It was on Aug. 1, 2007, when the 35W Bridge collapsed, killing 13 people and injuring 145 others.
Olson and his wife Christine were on their way to a Minnesota Twins game. When he approached the Mississippi River, he stopped suddenly because he noticed the bridge falling in front of him. That’s when he turned his wife.
“I turned to her and said ‘I love you’ and said ‘we’re next’,” Olson said. “Then it went down behind us and there we were.”
On Wednesday, Brent and his wife Chris along with 20 other survivors arrived at a Minnesota Department of Transportation’s warehouse in Oakdale to collect the pieces of the bridge that remain.
There’s about 9 million pounds of rusting, lime-green steel spread across two storage facilities.
When the doors to the warehouse opened, Olson got his first peek at the twisted metal and became instantly emotional. Tears filled his eyes and he got choked up. For the last two years, Olson had been working with MnDOT to get his hands on what’s left.
“We’ve spent a lot time inside this building,” said Kevin Gutknecht, communications director for MnDOT.
Gutknecht explained that the pieces of the bridge were part of the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation on why the bridge failed.
“When the (NTSB) went through the wreckage of the bridge, they picked out certain pieces that they thought were really important to study because it may have been part of the direct cause of the collapse,” Gutknecht said. “These were considered key pieces of evidence.”
The metal is not available to the public. At this point, MnDOT is only providing pieces of steel to people who were directly affected by the collapse. Legislation passed by Minnesota lawmakers explains who can and can’t receive a piece.
Another person who’s eligible to collect bridge scrap is Andy Gannon from Apple Valley. He loaded nearly a dozen pieces of lime-green steel into the back of his SUV.
On August 1st, Gannon survived a 56 feet drop when the bridge gave way. He said before heading over to the Oakdale facility he wasn’t feeling emotional.
“When I was driving here, it didn’t really faze me until I pulled up,” Gannon said. “I’m kind of struggling right now.”
Gannon says he wanted to collect some of the pieces because they’re daily reminder that life is too short.
Items not claimed by Thanksgiving will be sold for scrap.