Two survivors were on their way to a soccer gameby Dan Gunderson, Minnesota Public Radio
Dozens of people survived the I-35W bridge collapse. Some were seriously injured, others escaped with minor injuries. But all are experiencing the emotions that come after surviving a brush with death. Experts say understanding those emotions will take time and patience.
St. Paul, Minn. — Kelly Kahle and Kimberly Brown were crossing the I-35W bridge on their way to a soccer game when the bridge fell from under the car.
Kelly was driving when the bridge began to vibrate and wobble before collapsing.
"I had two pretty concrete thoughts. One was i'm really going to die right now. That was probably the most scary," Kahle says. "After that, the image of our windshield getting hit with this muddy brown water and thinking I'm going to drown to death."
The car was just off the edge of the fallen bridge, partially submerged in the Mississippi River. Kimberly Brown says she remembers panic as she tried to get the window open. Her friend Kelly was already on the concrete slab encouraging her as she climbed over the car and pulled herself up on broken metal and concrete.
"It was just disbelief, my stomach absolutely hurt I was so scared and tense. I think I grabbed Kelly and sobbed for a second because I was so overwhelmed with fear," Brown says. "It was the most terrifying thing i've ever gone through. I thought we were going to die. That fact that we're living is just as much a shock."
Kelly and Kimberly say they spent about 45 minutes on the concrete slab in the Mississippi River. There were others on that chunk of concrete with them waiting to be rescued. Kahle says eveyone was checking on each other and seemed to be ok. Then, the group was separated as rescue workers led them to solid ground.
Kelly Kahle says in the past few days she's constantly searched for information about the bridge collapse, despite finding herself troubled by the memories.
"Like if I read the news a lot and I look at pictures before I go to bed, then when I shut my eyes that's all I see," she says. "And I won't really get a good nights' sleep on that. And I have had one dream of falling that wasn't too pleasant."
Her friend Kimberly Brown has been back to the collapsed bridge. She says she biked past but couldn't see much. She says she's talking about the experience a lot, but she's not sure how to get past the fear and anxiety she feels.
"I just feel so lucky to be alive," Brown says. "There's definitely part of me that's questioning why was I spared. What am I supposed to be doing with my life?"
Tai Mendenhall is a mental health professional and professor at the University of Minnesota. He's helping provide counseling for survivors, victims families and first responders.
Mendenhall says everyone responds differently to a disaster or a brush with death. Some people question why they survived. Others are angry and don't know why.
He says in coming weeks, it will be important for friends, family and community to support anyone who was involved in the bridge collapse. He says people don't need answers, they need what he calls the ministry of presence.
"My mom always told me, 'God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason.' Often time we struggle with, "What do I say?" You need to be comfortable with just sitting with people's pain," Mendenhall says. "If there's a rush to closure, (like if you say) 'It will pass,' 'Everything will be okay,' it's usually more about your discomfort than it is about theirs'."
Mendenhall says counselors are available to help survivors and family members. But he says the best therapy can often be found in the midst of supportive family and friends.
- Morning Edition, 08/07/2007, 6:55 a.m.