I live at Fourth Street Southeast and Eighth Street Southeast. The on-ramp that leads to the 35W bridge is two blocks away on University Avenue Southeast and Ninth (which is really just a long street leading to the on-ramp. in fact it's not even called ninth). I didn't feel it or hear it when it crashed, i just suddenly noticed a few sirens, and then the constant rush of sirens began to build. I have no TV but i knew something was up. I walked down to the corner market on fourth and eighth where the traffic was heavy and being controlled by a police officer and bought a few groceries, then went to go look up "ninth" to see what was the matter. I saw all this black smoke pluming up from what i thought was below the bridge. I asked someone near to me what happened; he said "i heard the 35W bridge collapsed." i had no idea what he was talking about. The fact that he meant that giant concrete bridge just could not fit its way into my head. I said, "what bridge?" Not like i didn't hear him, but i couldn't understand what he was referring to. He said, "The 35W bridge."
I called a friend who lives in the buildings right next to the 10th Avenue bridge, who said she was in her kitchen when the whole place started to shake, even the refrigerator. She said the bridge collapsed. I said, "you mean the whole highway?!" she said yeah. I started to walk to her place, through throngs of people, squad cars, fire trucks, auto traffic and dusty air. I walked along University Avenue as it crosses over 35W and saw how it just went up like usual, but like a roller coaster appeared to have a sudden drop-off point. I just couldn't believe it. It's just so baffling that the structure could collapse that it never felt real, but i knew it was.
From the fire escapes atop Florence Court at University and 10th, where my friend lives, i could see a car or two on the piece of road that was now an island in the river. I was scared, but, still, just couldn't have the whole thing sink in.
Seven hours later and i'm sitting blocks away from a disaster scene lit with floodlights and blue and red and yellow sirens, and i don't know what to do with myself. There are bodies, missing people (now numbering 20), and i'm in my apartment, ready for bed. But i don't know if i'll sleep. The death toll has reached nine now, and i doubt it will stop. With more than 50 cars being on the road at the time, think of how many fell into the water, trapping those inside.
Now it's sunk in. When i think about that, being submerged, having the ground give out underneath you, it sinks in as much as it can for a bystander like me.
How could a day start out so normal, with a few little problems and obstacles to take care of, end up with a wound left on a city that will change how we live for years?
How many times will i mental-map out a route and remember that the highway has fallen into the river?
How many times will i talk about seeing the scene as it happened this weekend to all my family in Chicago?
How many times am i going to drive past that spot with my memory of the road intact still with me before that memory fades and all i see is the devestation, ground zero?
Yes my prose is precious, but this is how i feel. I know the facts, nine dead, 20 missing, 50 or 60 injured. Of course, no one knows how this could have happened.
And tomorrow i'm going to get on the road and travel over a few more bridges, remembering wednesday evening every time.
My girlfriend's afraid to get in a car.
Does anyone else feel horrified yet strangely unaffected, like they know they're still going to do tomorrow what they'd already planned to do, even while this whole huge thing sits in the back of their mind?
I don't know. This is the strangest day of my life.