KOMO TV- Cars, people sent tumbling into Skagit River as I-5 bridge collapses

<p>Photo: Jessie Barnhart</p>

Photo: Jessie Barnhart

From KOMOTV.com-


MOUNT VERNON, Wash. -- The Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River collapsed Thursday evening, dropping two vehicles into the water and injuring three people.

Both the northbound and southbound portions of the bridge collapsed into the river sometime before 7 p.m., according to Washington State Patrol trooper Mark Francis.

Xavier Grospe, 62, who lives near the river, said he could see three cars with what appeared to be one person per vehicle. The vehicles were sitting still in the water, partially submerged and partly above the waterline, and the apparent drivers were sitting either on top of the vehicles or on the edge of open windows.

Rescue crews in several boats were able to pull all three people from the semi-submerged vehicles, which were tangled in the wreckage of the bridge.

All three were taken taken to a local hospital and the extent of their injuries is not known. Nobody was killed in the collapse.

Washington Department of Transportation bridge inspectors are now trying to determine what caused the collapse.

Francis said troopers have located a commercial motor vehicle believed to have hit several girders on the bridge just prior to the collapse. The driver is cooperating with investigators.

As the rescue unfolded, crowds of people lined the river to watch the scene unfold.

"It's not something you see every day," said Jimmy O'Connor, the owner of two local pizza restaurants who was driving on another bridge parallel to the one that collapsed. "People were starting to crawl out of their cars."

Bart Treece with WDOT was unsure when the bridge was last inspected.

"All of our bridges in the area are pretty old," he said.

The bridge is not considered structurally deficient but is listed as being "functionally obsolete" - a category meaning that their design is outdated, such as having narrow shoulders are low clearance underneath, according to a database compiled by the Federal Highway Administration.

The bridge was built in 1955 and has a sufficiency rating of 57.4 out of 100, according to federal records. That is well below the statewide average rating of 80, according to an Associated Press analysis of federal data, but 759 bridges in the state have a lower sufficiency score.

According to a 2012 Skagit County Public Works Department, 42 of the county's 108 bridges that are 50 years or older. The document says eight of the bridges are more than 70 years old and two are over 80.

Washington state was given a C in the American Society of Civil Engineers' 2013 infrastructure report card and a C- when it came to the state's bridges. The group said more than a quarter of Washington's 7,840 bridges are considered structurally deficient of functionally obsolete.

WSDOT's Travis Phelps said his department is already speaking with contractors to rebuild the bridge, but he cautioned that the bridge will be out of commission for the foreseeable future.

"This is going to be a long-term situation, so don't expect this to be fixed by Monday," he said.

Officials from Seattle City Light say the Army Corps of Engineers has not asked them to reduce water discharge from SCL's Skagit Dam.

Southbound traffic is being routed off at State Route 20, while northbound traffic is being routed off East College Way, according to WSDOT.