UPDATE 3-Bridge collapses in Washington state, sending cars into river

Fri May 24, 2013 2:46am EDT

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(Adds confirmation of three rescued and no apparent fatalities)

By Jonathan Kaminsky

OLYMPIA, Wash. May 23 (Reuters) - Part of a four-lane freeway bridge over a river in rural Washington state collapsed on Thursday, sending vehicles and drivers tumbling into the frigid water, authorities said.

Two of the three people rescued from the river were hospitalized with hypothermia, said Given Kutz, a spokesman for Skagit County in the northern part of the state.

There were apparently no fatalities. "They (rescuers) don't expect anyone else (remains) in the water," he said.

Authorities were awaiting conformation on the cause of the collapse, said a second Skagit County spokesman, Jim Martin. Local media reported it might have been caused by a truck striking the structure.

It was not raining at the time, Washington State Patrol spokesman Trooper Mark Francis said.

The bridge is on the Interstate 5 freeway where it crosses the Skagit River between the towns of Mount Vernon and Burlington, 55 miles (90 km) north of Seattle.

The freeway is the main corridor for car traffic between Seattle and Vancouver, Canada.

The bridge was built in 1955, according to the website for the National Bridge Inventory Database.

Local television images showed onlookers gathered at the bank of the Skagit River, calmly watching the rescue attempts under the fallen bridge section.

"The currents of the river are really rough. It's cold," Barbara Williams, who lives nearby, told Seattle station KOMO-TV.

The bridge collapse comes at a time when state lawmakers are debating a proposed $8.4 billion transportation funding package that Washington state Governor Jay Inslee has championed, along with fellow Democrats in the legislature.

In August 2007, a bridge fell in Minnesota resulting in the deaths of 13 people, which raised concerns about faulty infrastructure in the United States.

That incident saw about 1,000 feet (305 meters) of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis collapse into the Mississippi River during evening rush hour.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board subsequently found more than a dozen steel support plates suspected of causing the disaster were deficient in size, and a routine inspection would not have uncovered the problem. (Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Laura L. Myers in Seattle and Nick Carey in Chicago; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and John Stonestreet)

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