River bridge is safe

Published 12:27 am Friday, August 3, 2007

NATCHEZ — After a bridge over the Mississippi River collapsed in Minneapolis on Wednesday, some Miss-Lou residents may feel a little antsy crossing the Mississippi River Bridge.

Ferriday resident Breezy Keith said she isn’t one of them.

“I’ve never really thought to worry about (the bridge collapsing),” she said. “I’d be much more worried about flooding than that.”

Email newsletter signup

The Mississippi Department of Transportation is responsible for closing bridges if they are unsafe, and MDOT officials said inspections are done immediately to determine if any collision — whether a barge or an automobile that left the road — has brought about a need for emergency repairs.

MDOT does repairs to the bridge right away if there is any kind of damage even minor damage to guardrails on the side, Adams County Emergency Director George Souderes said.

The bridge is inspected every year, and about five years ago a team of engineers did an ultra-intensive inspection of the structure, Mississippi Southern Transportation Commissioner Wayne Brown said.

The bridge’s submerged structures are inspected every five years unless a shift is noted in the river’s flow stream, Brown said.

If a change is noted, inspections are increased, he said.

The westbound bridge — opened in 1940 before many structural innovations were discovered — is fracture critical, which means damage to certain structural elements of the bridge could lead to damage beyond that single element, Brown said.

“With a structure like that, you’re going to have more frequent inspections,” he said.

If a collapse did occur, first responders would be local police and fire departments, Souderes said.

Emergency management officials would set up an incident command center from which to direct lifesaving maneuvers as quickly as possible, and then they would contact the U.S. Coast Guard to stop all river traffic, Souderes said.

“Our main and first objective would be to save lives,” he said.

Once it was determined what lifesaving equipment might be needed, emergency management officials would contact the Mississippi Highway Patrol and MDOT to help with highway control, Souderes said.

The Department of Environmental Quality would also be contacted to help cope with the gasoline and oil being introduced into the river, Souderes said.

“Everything would not run smoothly — it would be chaotic,” he said. “From what I saw, once (authorities in Minnesota) got a handle on things and once citizens started pitching in, things started to blend together.

“Of course, we’re hoping nothing like this will ever happen.”