Sarah Stultz: Maryland bridge collapse evoked feelings of Interstate 35W bridge collapse in 2007

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, March 26, 2024

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Nose for News by Sarah Stultz

When I was getting ready for work on Tuesday, a message came through on our family text group from my sister who lives in Maryland.
She said she had woken up to an alert from her county’s emergency management office that told residents to avoid a certain portion of Interstate 695 because the Francis Scott Key Bridge had collapsed due to a ship strike.

A cargo vessel bound for Sri Lanka had slammed into one of the bridge’s pillars, and in the link she shared it showed the bridge fall into the water in a matter of seconds.

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Thankfully the incident took place at non-peak hours, but as I write this, there are still six people who are unaccounted for who had been working with a construction crew to repair potholes at the time and who had fallen into the water when the bridge went down.

When I heard the news, my mind immediately shifted back to August 2007, the year after I moved to Minnesota, when my co-worker and I ventured up to Minneapolis after the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed.

This was definitely a different situation than the most recent collapse, but as I watched Tuesday’s events, it evoked memories of the wreckage we saw that day and the people I met from our own area who were witnesses of that moment in history.

Among them was Megan Menning, a native of Albert Lea who was living in St. Paul at that time and who was with a friend driving to the Twins game when they started feeling the ground shaking as they approached the bridge that crossed over the Mississippi River.

Ultimately, there were just a handful of cars in front of them before the area where the road had buckled and fallen into the river below. She estimated they were only 30 seconds away from being one of the cars that had fallen with the bridge.

She described the chaos that followed and of hearing another woman in unbelief say she had barely made it across the bridge and saw cars falling backward into the water in her rearview mirror.

Another Albert Lea High School graduate working in Minneapolis at the time described narrowly missing the bridge herself because of a slight change in her schedule that day. Because she left work early that day, she was able to get safely across the bridge before it fell and estimated she crossed it 10 or 15 minutes before it collapsed.

These are images and experiences that will never be forgotten, and I’m sure the devastation is similar today in Maryland.

I’m grateful to be able to help document history and share these stories and others every day, and I am grateful for those who entrust their stories to us as a journalists.

These stories not only leave a mark on me as a person but also become part of the history books for years to come.

Sarah Stultz is the managing editor of the Tribune. Her column appears every Wednesday.