August 20, 2014

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Bridge collapse opens old wounds in W.Va.

POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. — The horror from that day 40 years ago when the Silver Bridge tumbled into the Ohio River came rushing back for Emma Boswell with the collapse of an interstate bridge in Minneapolis.

Worn by years of corrosion and neglect, a crucial joint in the 39-year-old Silver Bridge’s suspension system snapped and the normal vibrations of heavy rush-hour traffic on U.S. 35 shook it apart. Dozens of cars and trucks followed the structure into the river on Dec. 15, 1967, killing 46 people.

The collapse of the bridge, which spanned the Ohio River from Ohio to West Virginia, remains one of the nation’s deadliest.


AP FILE
A Budd car carries passengers across the Ohio River where floating derricks probe debris left by the collapse of the Silver Bridge in Point Pleasant, W.Va., in 1967.

As Boswell learned of the Minneapolis collapse Wednesday, she had to turn off her television.

“I couldn’t stand it,” Boswell, 84, said Friday. “It brought back so many memories. I just don’t watch it. It’s too painful.”
John Walker, a deputy state highway engineer, said Friday that there are 18 tress bridges in West Virginia similar to the steel-truss bridge across the Mississippi River that collapsed, and inspections are being scheduled.

The Silver Bridge disaster occurred the same year that the eight-lane bridge in Minneapolis opened.

The 1967 collapse alerted engineers to the dangers of old iron bridges, and experts set out to evaluate every span in the country, just as federal officials are now ordering states to immediately inspect all steel-truss bridges similar to the Mississippi River span that collapsed.

Boswell, a lifelong resident of Mason County, lived 15 miles from the Silver Bridge on a farm with her husband. Rescue crews arrived within minutes and saved some from drowning. Dozens of others weren’t so lucky.

“They were practically all local people,” Boswell said. “The majority of them we lost lived in Mason County.”