US road bridge collapse in Washington 'caused by lorry'

First images from the scene of the river showed cars in the water

A road bridge collapsed into a river in the north-western US state of Washington after a girder was hit by an oversized lorry, officials have said.

Vehicles and people were thrown into the water after part of the Interstate 5 highway crumbled on Thursday evening.

State officials said three people were rescued from the Skagit river and there were no fatalities.

The four-lane bridge near Mount Vernon is on the main route between the cities of Seattle and Vancouver, Canada.

The lorry was hauling drilling equipment that was too tall, and the top right corner at the front of the load hit several of the bridge's trusses, Washington State Patrol trooper Mark Francis told the Skagit Valley Herald.

The vehicle was able to drive off the bridge and the driver waited for police at the scene.

'Miracles'

The company that owns the lorry, Mullen Trucking in Alberta, Canada, said it had a permit to transport the equipment across the bridge and had hired a local escort to help with navigation.

America's bridge problem

  • Over 200 million trips are taken daily across deficient bridges in America's 102 largest metropolitan regions
  • One in nine US bridges is rated as structurally deficient, while the average age of the nation's 607,380 bridges is 42 years
  • To repair all US bridges by 2028 would require an annual investment of more than $20bn - barely $13bn is being spent now

Source: American Society of Civil Engineers

Rescue boats plucked three people - Dan Sligh, his wife and another man - out of the river 25ft (7.6m) below.

Mr Sligh and his wife were taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. The other man was in a stable condition at another medical facility.

The bridge had disappeared in a "big puff of dust", Mr Sligh said.

"You talk miracles," he said. "I don't know what you want to call it.

"When you're sitting down in the water and there's all that mangled metal and bridge, and you're looking around kind of pinching yourself and realising you're lucky to be alive. It's a pretty amazing day to tell you the truth."

Mr Sligh said he dislocated his shoulder in the fall, but popped it back into place.

The Skagit Valley Herald quoted a driver who said he felt a vibration as he crossed the bridge and looked in his rear-view mirror to see that a section was no longer there.

Bridge recently checked

"Thanks to the rescuers and a little bit of luck," said Washington Governor Jay Inslee, after touring the scene, "we had three Skagitonians who made it out of the Skagit River alive."

Seattle Vancouver map

Detours have been put in place around the major thoroughfare 60 miles (96km) north of Seattle, which is reportedly used by about 71,000 vehicles every day.

Highway patrol has advised people to avoid the area if possible, especially over the forthcoming bank holiday weekend.

Washington state Transport Secretary Lynn Peterson said the bridge had been inspected twice last year and underwent repairs.

While it was not listed as structurally deficient, the bridge was deemed "functionally obsolete" by the Federal Highway Administration - meaning its design is out of date with narrow shoulders and low clearance below.

The National Transportation Safety Board has sent a team to investigate.

The bridge was built in 1955, according to the website for the National Bridge Inventory Database.

Its sufficiency rating is 57.4 out of 100 - much lower than the state's average rating of 80, the Associated Press reported.

In March, President Barack Obama urged US lawmakers to approve $21bn (£14bn) in spending to improve the nation's roads and bridges, describing them as "raggedy".

In the same month, a report card by the American Society of Civil Engineers awarded the nation's infrastructure a D - one grade above failure.

Part of Interstate 5 bridge collapsed in Skagit River near Mount Vernon, Washington. 24 May 2013

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