Yesterday started out as any Wednesday does in my world, nothing out of the ordinary occurred. I went through my day, going to work, picking up the kids from daycare, having dinner, etc, and then I got a phone call from T. He had taken The Girl to the hardware store with him, The Boy and I were home putzing around in the yard when the phone rang. T asked me if I was watching TV, if I had heard the news, what news I said. The bridge on 35W over the river collapsed. What? It collapsed? I instantly forgot about the lawn watering we were attempting and took The Boy inside. Turned on the TV and then sat there horrified by what I was seeing. When T had said the bridge over the river, I had thought immediately of the bridge over the Minnesota River which is much closer to our house, but no it was the bridge over the Mississippi. How could this happen? Just 10-15 miles from our house this huge tragedy took place, and was unfolding before our eyes.
Now I can’t stop myself from watching/reading/listening to any coverage I can find. Seeing Matt Lauer covering the story in Minneapolis live this morning struck a chord with me. This National story feels so personal to me. That bridge hasn’t been part of my daily commute for many years, but as a born and bred Minnesotan, someone who attended the University of Minnesota, and lived so very near to that bridge at one point in my life, it just feels like my world has been violated. I can’t even count how many times I have driven over that bridge, it was part of my daily commute for many years, but in the recent years I’ve only traveled over it a few times per month. I am so thankful that none of my friends or family members were on the bridge yesterday evening, but that isn’t allowing me to move on.
I am angry that there was prior evidence of fatigue stress on the bridge structure that wasn’t addressed. As a mechanical engineer I can’t help but go back to my statics and dynamics courses where I learned exactly what fatigue stress can do. I’m not ready to blame yet though, we don’t know enough. Nobody wanted this to happen, and I have to believe that if the bridge inspectors and engineers really felt it was a safety hazard it would have been fixed immediately regardless of budget constraints.
Mostly I just can’t get this image of me in my car, with my two kids strapped into their car seats behind me, as we plunge into the water out of my head. I know I have to stop thinking this way for my mental health, but there it is right now. What would I have done? Could I have saved both of my children? This immense feeling of dread has taken over my head today, and my thoughts are with everyone who has lost a loved one on the bridge, or is waiting for news about a missing family member or friend. I feel guilty for going about my normal routines today, guilty that my life hasn’t been directly affected, but also happy that it wasn’t us…and some more guilt for being so happy about that.
Edited to add a link to a pretty good editorial on the subject: Nick Coleman: Public anger will follow our Sorrow