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Minneapolis churches respond to bridge disaster

At least four people are dead and dozens injured following the collapse of an eight-lane interstate highway bridge over the Mississippi River at Minneapolis Aug. 1.
A UMNS photo by Russ Scheffler.

A UMNS Report
By Linda Green*
Aug. 2, 2007

United Methodists across Minneapolis are standing in solidarity with victims and families following the Aug. 1 collapse of a major bridge.


Bishop Sally Dyck

The 40-year-old, eight-lane Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis collapsed during the evening rush hour, sending people, vehicles and tons of metal and concrete into the Mississippi River and onto its banks. At least four people were reported dead initially and more than 60 injured, but rescue workers were still searching the dozens of cars submerged in the river Aug. 2 and said the death toll may climb.

Minnesota United Methodist Bishop Sally Dyck called the bridge collapse "perhaps one of the most frightening disasters we have had to face as a state," and Gov. Tim Pawlenty described the situation as "a catastrophe of historic proportions for Minnesota."

United Methodist congregations in Minnesota are being encouraged to devote a special time in worship Aug. 5 to pray for those affected by the bridge collapse. The United Methodist Board of Discipleship offers "A Prayer in the Aftermath of Tragedy" at http://www.gbod.org/worship/default.asp?act=reader&item_id=32507.

"As we mourn those whose lives were lost in this tragedy and share the anxiety of those who still do not know the fate of loved ones, please join me in prayer for all concerned," Dyck said. "Please pray for those who were injured and their family and friends, those who are waiting to hear about missing loved ones, those who have lost loved ones to this disaster, and those engaged in rescue and recovery in many ways."

Services scheduled

In response to the crisis, a candlelight vigil was scheduled for 6 p.m. Aug. 2 at Prospect Park United Methodist Church to show solidarity with the victims, their families and the city, said Pastor Nancy Victorin-Vangerud.

The church is near the University of Minnesota and is the closest United Methodist church near the collapsed bridge and I-35, she said. "There is such a feeling of a sense of community and solidarity in terms of those who are suffering because it is in the heart of the city where we are.


The Rev. Nancy Victorin-Vangerud

"We are holding this vigil so that neighbors of any faith can come together, light a candle, share a flower and a silent prayer together to give thanks for the gift of life, to mourn and to stand in support of all of those who are suffering," she said.

First lady Laura Bush was scheduled to arrive in Minneapolis Aug. 3 to console victims' families. President George Bush promised a $5 million grant to help pay for rerouting the city's traffic patterns around the disaster. The Bushes are United Methodists.

Churches opened their sanctuaries for prayer on Aug. 2. Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church also opened its labyrinth for meditation and encouraged members and the community at large to attend noon worship services at the Basilica of St. Mary, the Catholic church in the downtown area. The Minnesota Council of Churches scheduled an Aug. 2 interfaith prayer service at 6 p.m. at the Temple Israel to give people opportunity to pray for the victims. Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Muslim representatives from the downtown clergy association were to speak.

Dyck said the bridge collapse highlighted "remarkable acts of selflessness and heroism" by the rescue workers, volunteers and emergency responders.

"Tragedy's dual faces reveal our fears and our sense of relatedness. The collapse of the bridge over the Mississippi River, like any tragedy, raises our fears and sense of helplessness," said the Rev. Chris Morton, acting director of the Minnesota Council of Churches.

"It is in times like these that community is most experienced, in our religious traditions and more broadly in society," said Morton, a Disciples of Christ minister. "And it is in times like these that building bridges to others around us, particularly those we do not know, is absolutely critical to discovering and establishing the common good in the world."

Supporting those in need

At least 140,000 vehicles a day moved over the bridge that crossed the Mississippi River, according to USA Today. The city's major artery was being repaired and two lanes in each direction were closed when the bridge buckled under rush-hour traffic. An estimated 50 vehicles were on the bridge when it collapsed.

The Twin Cities Chapter of the American Red Cross is responding by providing mass care, mental health counseling, meals and snacks to families and first responders, and other services, according to the chapter's Web site.

Officials at the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the cause of the bridge collapse, but the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper quoted Jim Burnett the NTSB's former chairman as saying the agency was likely to focus on two primary causes: vibration and fatigue cracking. The paper also reported the bridge had been rated as "structurally deficient" two years ago and possibly in need of replacement. 

Victorin-Vangerud said the people who travel across the bridge every day "are saying it could have been us. And if it isn't, we want to be in support of those who are experiencing this tragedy."

Many United Methodists have inquired about volunteering to help with recovery efforts, but only state and federal officials are allowed near the site at this time. Dyck is encouraging United Methodist to donate blood for the Red Cross' recovery efforts and to express care for their neighbors.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.


Related Articles

Investigators search for answers in fatal Minnesota bridge collapse

Cracking, vibration possible culprits

MN bridge collapse kills at least 4



Minnesota Annual Conference

Prospect Park United Methodist Church

Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church

United Methodist Board of Discipleship

Minnesota Council of Churches


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