A 50-year-old bridge collapsed in the United States, forcing Pittsburgh rescuers to rappel down a ravine and form a human chain to reach a few occupants of a city bus that fell with the span . No deaths have been reported.
The collapse came hours before US President Joe Biden arrived in the city to promote his $1 trillion infrastructure bill, which earmarked about $1.6 billion ($2.45 billion New Zealand) to the maintenance of bridges in Pennsylvania.
At least four people had to be hospitalized. Five other vehicles were also on the bridge at the time. The cause was being investigated and crews searched under the debris for additional victims.
A large crack appeared at the end of the bridge where the segmented bus landed 46 meters into the ravine, as if struck by an earthquake. A car landed upside down in front of the bus, which was operated by the Pittsburgh Area Transit Agency.
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The Forbes Avenue Bridge over Fern Hollow Creek in Frick Park collapsed at 6:39 a.m. Friday (local time), city officials said. The loud crashing sound was followed by hissing and the smell of natural gas, witnesses said.
“The first sound was a lot louder, and kind of a rumble, which I guess was the structure, the bridge hitting the ground,” said Ken Doyno, a resident who lives four houses away. “I mean, the whole house shook at that time.”
Ruptured gas lines along the bridge caused the leak and the gas supply was shut off within half an hour, city officials said.
As Biden was visiting the scene, an officer told him that a person running had helped first responders get people out of cars. He called it a miracle.
“It really is, it’s amazing,” Biden said.
By mid-afternoon, three adults were being treated and all were in fair condition, the local hospital system said. A fourth person had been treated and was released.
The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team to investigate. The agency tweeted a photo Friday night of President Jennifer Homendy at the scene.
A search and rescue team combed the area, said Sam Wasserman, spokesman for Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey. Drones were brought in to help.
Most of the 10 people assessed for injuries were first responders who were checked for exhaustion or because of cold, snowy weather, Gainey said.
The segmented bus operated by the Allegheny County Port Authority had two passengers in addition to the driver, said agency spokesman Adam Brandolph.
Bus driver Daryl Luciani told local station WPXI-TV that as soon as he reached the bridge he thought it was collapsing.
“I could just smell it,” Luciani told the station. “The bus was bouncing and shaking and it feels like a long time, but it probably took less than a minute for the bus to finally stop, and I was just thankful no one on the bus was hurt.”
The passengers appeared to be fine, he said, so he pulled on the air brake and waited for help to arrive. First responders reached them after descending with flashlights in the pre-dawn darkness and used a rope to help him and the other occupants to safety, Luciani said.
About two hours after the collapse, Brandolph said, one of the passengers was on another bus, began complaining of injuries, and was taken to hospital. The driver and the other passenger were not injured, according to Brandolph.
The bus had started its journey in downtown Pittsburgh and was heading towards the suburban community of Braddock.
“Judging by the time of day, if that bus had been traveling downtown, there would probably have been more people on the bus and obviously the situation could have been a lot worse,” Brandolph said.
The bus had seven or eight cameras, and any footage they captured of the collapse will be part of the investigation, Brandolph said.
Neighbors said a gas company employee went door to door to evacuate them from the immediate area before the gas was successfully shut off.
“Apart from that lingering noise, we could start to smell the gas and that was the really scary thing, and then with that smell, we both said, let’s get dressed and get out of here,” Lyn Krynski said. , whose house is closest to the bridge. .
“It sounded more like a weather phenomenon than anything,” said Douglas Gwilym, who was shoveling snow when he heard the noise. “That was all I had to compare it to – it was that weird, sibilant sound.”
The bridge is a major thoroughfare that leads to the Squirrel Hill and Oakland neighborhoods and is a popular route into downtown Pittsburgh. Authorities told motorists to avoid the area. Several neighbors said a two-hour delay to school due to weather might have averted a much worse human tragedy.
At the site of the collapse, Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman called it “just a horrible, surreal scene.”
“I hope this is a wake-up call for the nation that we need to make these infrastructure investments,” Fetterman said.
The steel bridge, which was built in 1970, carries about 14,500 vehicles a day, according to a 2005 estimate.
Wasserman said the most recent inspection took place in September, but the report was not immediately available.
But a September 2019 inspection of the city-owned bridge found the deck and superstructure to be in poor condition, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Bridge Inventory.
A spreadsheet on the State Department of Transportation’s website listed the bridge’s overall condition as poor, which the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation says means “deterioration of primary structural elements has progressed “.