(Adds confirmation of three rescued and no apparent fatalities)
By Jonathan Kaminsky
OLYMPIA, Wash. May 23 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
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)