"Mom, The Bridge Collapsed"

May 24, 2013

The Interstate 5 bridge about an hour after the collapse over Skagit River Thursday night.
The Interstate 5 bridge about an hour after the collapse over Skagit River Thursday night.
Credit Harley Soltes

A parade of people who live and work near the collapsed bridge in Mt. Vernon continued to visit the scene today to get a first-hand look at the damage, snap photos and swap news about the accident.

“I’m scared to drive over other bridges,” said Jerry Olmstead, who works in Mt. Vernon and crosses this bridge several times a week. “What if another bridge in Washington goes?”

I'm scared to drive over other bridges.

Thursday evening, a truck hauling an oversized load hit an overhead bridge girder on the major route between Seattle and Canada, sending a section of the interstate into the river below. Two other vehicles plunged into the Skagit River, but all three occupants escaped with only minor injuries.

Mt. Vernon resident Lori Nordgulen heard about the accident last night, while attending a ceremony with her son at Mt. Vernon High School.

“All the kids started showing their cell phones to each other because they were getting information about it on Facebook,” Norgulen recalled. “Some kids are emergency responders so they ran out to go respond to the incident. Then my son texted me and said, Mom, the bridge collapsed.”

My son texted me, 'Mom, the bridge collapsed.'

Nordgulen said the school principal stopped the ceremony so people could call their loved ones to make sure everyone was safe, but a lot of cell networks were overloaded. She said people at the ceremony were relieved to eventually find out everyone was safely rescued from the water and nobody died in the accident.

Nordgulen described the collapsed bridge as a key link between the Mt. Vernon and Burlington, which she says merge together as one larger city. Nordgulen said many people work, shop and regularly commute between the two locations.

“So it will affect things,” Nordgulen said.  “The traffic will be a big issue. I’ve already been thinking about where I can go grocery shopping without having to go across the bridge. It’s not so much that there isn’t a way to go, but it’s going to be very congested if they run all that I-5 traffic over there.”

An average of 71,000 vehicles a day use this stretch of highway where the bridge collapsed.

The Washington Transportation Department has set up detours. The closest bridge is nearby and mostly used for local traffic between Mount Vernon and Burlington. The department also is recommending detours using Highway 20 and Highway 9 that add tens of miles to a trip.

On Friday afternoon, WSDOT officials said traffic on Interstate 5 in Skagit County backed up about a mile northbound and two miles southbound as cars crawled through detours around the collapsed bridge.

Mt. Vernon resident Marcelina Hilario said her family plans to move to Burlington this summer and this closure of the main bridge will put a big wrench in their plans.

“We were going to go back and forth, back and forth,” Hilario said. “So now it’s going to mess it up. I don’t know how long it’ll take if they’re going to rebuild it. We’ll have to use the other bridge, which is going to be hard."

Officials are urging drivers to avoid the area if possible.

KUOW reporters Derek Wang, Ruby de Luna and Liz Jones contributed to this report.

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