A catastrophe of historic proportions


Today marks five years since the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis. I was one of the first people to arrive at the scene. When the dust cleared, I thought I was looking at a mass grave.

Although some details of that day escape me, the images are seared into my memory. Especially those of the survivors, emerging one by one from their cars.

I couldn’t believe that anyone would survive the 60-foot (80-meter) plunge. But somehow, they did. A few even comforted the injured while help arrived.

Although some news accounts described the bridge collapse as “a catastrophe of historic proportions,” being there put a much more human face on this tragic event. I can picture a handful of the 13 people who died … the emergency-response personnel who risked their lives to save others … and the 200 survivors who are still working to rebuild their lives.

Five years later, the collapse of the 35W bridge has taught us many lessons about politics, engineering, and human nature. But for me, the most important lesson is that everything can change in an instant.

As we mark this sad anniversary today, let’s remember to live each day to the fullest … to show our love … to be grateful for all that is right in our lives. And let’s not forget the people whose lives will never be the same.

Want to learn more? Watch the Star Tribune’s Emmy-winning interactive presentation, 13 Seconds in August.

5 Responses to “A catastrophe of historic proportions”

  1. 1 lhertzel

    Your pictures are haunting. And I do remember that day, so clearly, the announcement in the newsroom, the stunned reaction–Steve Fisher getting on the PA to say “this is not a drill. This is real.” And standing looking at the newsroom TV with Scott Gillespie, whose face was ashen. And then the mad scramble to report and edit. Your pictures were invaluable then and will be important forever.

    • 2 hmunro

      I also remember the ashen faces in the newsroom, when I came in to deliver the photos. It was surreal — everyone seemed frozen in time, yet scrambling to make sense of what had happened.

      And thanks for your kind comments about the photos. I shot them purely out of instinct; still wish I’d been able to do more to help. But you’re right that they’re an important record of that day. So many people paid such a terrible price for simply being in the wrong place. May we never forget …

  2. Heather, thank you for the reminder that each of us should always remember to enjoy those around you each and every day, to enjoy life to the fullest, because you just never know. Tell the ones you love that YOU LOVE THEM every day, because when they walk out the door, that could be the last time you’ll ever see them. Life is too short! Thank you for your great post!

  3. Thank you. My heart goes out to those who lost loved ones and those whose lives are still forever changed by that day. Bless each of you. I see my friend Erica, standing by her car in the brown skirt talking to family on the phone…can’t imagine the shock and relief they felt…I am thankful to God for Erica, a beautiful woman with a huge heart for others! 🙂 Love, Sherry

    • 5 hmunro

      Thanks so much for your note, Sherry. Like you, I’m thankful for Erica. I probably would never have met her, if not for this tragedy. As you say: a beautiful, extraordinary woman with a huge heart. She truly is an inspiration.

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