Just a summary of my experience of the recent events, in re the I-35W bridge collapse yesterday evening. The whole thing is unbelievable. As I write this the death toll stands at 4, which is incredibly low for this long after the accident, although recovery operations have been temporarily suspended at least twice due to unsafe conditions. The count will rise once they have a chance to recover the bodies remaining in submerged vehicles.
Last night there were a lot of people standing around, although contrary to what I heard on the radio there were no “ashen, stricken faces” or people standing around in shock. A lot of people were walking around the area of the collapse, joking around and goofing off. That was surreal.
When I walked up to Red Cross headquarters on West River Parkway, they told people they didn’t need any help. After awhile I walked back to the Washington Avenue exit and found some guys from Bobby and Steve’s Auto World trucking a bunch of ice and water out to the rescue workers and the Red Cross. Bobby & Steve’s basically donated almost their entire stock of sports drink and bottled water. I helped them carry a couple of pallets of drinks up from the basement and load them up on the trucks. A couple of times we made trips out to the bridge to bring drinks to the rescue workers. They wouldn’t let us drive on the still-standing portions of the bridge, so we walked the crates out to the near edge of the staging area. Our self-appointed liason with the rescue workers was an EMT named Joe M—.
Eventually we started looking for food to bring out to the workers, but there wasn’t much to bring at that point. The Red Cross had a ton of materials for sandwiches but they weren’t coming out terribly fast. There were plenty of water-carriers by that point so I went inside to start helping make sandwiches, half of which were fed to police officers and rescue workers who found their way to the center. After an hour or so of cranking out sandwiches, food started to roll in from Panera’s, Caribou, Baker’s Square, Target, and everywhere.
By this time it was midnight, and Joe the EMT rounded up some medics and requisitioned an ERV from the Red Cross to deliver ice, food and drinks to the rescue sites on either side of the river. Unfortunately, the rescue work had been largely suspended by that point and there was no need for either food or medical assistance anymore, so I sat uselessly in the back of the ERV while we drove from point to point looking for the one or two police officers left in Minneapolis who had somehow managed to avoid being offered food (we did eventually find a couple). Joe had us continue drive around the collapse site even when it became apparent that there was no use for us there, which was silly. It kind of became apparent at that point that Joe was out here on his own, not really as part of any rescue team, despite his EMT shirt and highway vest.
I finally arrived home at 2:30am this morning. As of right now I’m still trying to get information on what might be done to help, whether that’s site-related work or some other kind of assistance. I’m kind of frustrated by the fact that there is no information anywhere about what specific needs there are that might be met by volunteers. It was plain last night that, even though there was no one asking for help, there was work to do if you kept your eyes open and jumped in where there was a need. However, I don’t know whether that would be the case as things stretch out here into the recovery phase. We’ll see.