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'A boom, then a monster sound': 10 hurt after bridge in Pittsburgh collapses

Ed Blazina, Andrew Goldstein, Kris B. Mamula, Julian Routh, Mick Stinelli and Stephanie Strasburg
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)

PITTSBURGH — Ten people were injured Friday morning when the bridge that carries Forbes Avenue over Frick Park collapsed in Pittsburgh’s Point Breeze neighborhood.

Three of the injured were transported to the hospital, Pittsburgh fire Chief Darryl Jones said, but none of them had injuries that were considered life-threatening.

UPMC said it had received three adult patients in fair condition at UMPC Presbyterian hospital in Oakland by 9:30 a.m.

Pittsburgh Public Safety tweeted just before 7 a.m. Friday that the bridge had collapsed.

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Photos from the scene showed four vehicles that had fallen in the chasm left by the collapsed bridge, with a fifth — a Port Authority bus — dangling precariously over the edge.

Port Authority confirmed that one of its 60-foot articulated buses had become trapped on a slab of the remnants of the bridge. Agency spokesman Adam Brandolph said the bus driver and the two passengers onboard were able to escape without injury.

News of the collapse came as the city prepares for a visit from President Joe Biden, who is scheduled to speak about infrastructure Friday afternoon at Mill 19 in Hazelwood. Multiple officials said the collapse illustrated the need for infrastructure investment.

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Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey and Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman were on the scene of the collapse Friday morning, as were numerous police, EMS and park vehicles.

“We were fortunate,” Gainey said, that no one was killed.

“We're just going to continue to hope for the best and make sure that we get this together,” he added.

Fitzgerald noted that the bridge is “a major artery” that connects the East End, Squirrel Hill and Oakland with both Downtown Pittsburgh and the eastern suburbs.

“A lot of work is going to need to be done,” Fitzgerald said.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf wrote on Twitter that his office is “monitoring the situation” and “prepared to provide support as needed.”

The city warned the public to avoid the area near the intersection of Forbes and Braddock avenues, which split the Point Breeze, Regent Square and Squirrel Hill neighborhoods.

The collapse caused a large gas leak, which emitted a sound like a jet engine, on Forbes near South Dallas Avenue. Crews from Peoples Natural Gas were able to shut off the gas, Fitzgerald said.

Chief Jones said several nearby families were evacuated from their homes due to the gas leak but have since been allowed to return to their homes.

The cause of the collapse is under investigation. The bridge was most recently inspected in September, city officials said, but it was not immediately clear if there were any issues discovered during that inspection.

The bridge is about a quarter-mile from the Reynolds Street entrance to Frick Park. It goes over a wooded ravine and a creek that are part of the park.

A Port Authority bus that was on a bridge when it collapsed Friday Jan. 28, 2022, is visible in Pittsburgh's East End.  A two-lane bridge collapsed in Pittsburgh early Friday, prompting rescuers to rappel nearly 150 feet (46 meters) while others formed a human chain to help rescue multiple people from a dangling bus.(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The bridge crosses over a popular walking trail in Frick Park and an off-leash dog exercise area. People were in the park around the time of the collapse, but there were no immediate reports of injuries on the trail.

Dog walkers and other neighbors gathered near the scene Friday to gasp together and to shoot photos and cellphone videos.

John Jacobs, of Squirrel Hill, said he walks his two dogs in the park every morning.

“It’s funny Biden’s in town on the infrastructure bill,” Jacobs said. “What a coincidence.”

Biden was expected to speak extensively on infrastructure during his remarks, particularly with a stress on the importance of the recently passed $1 trillion bill that is intended to fund repair and maintenance of the nation’s roads, bridges, railways and other physical infrastructure.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the president would proceed with his trip as planned and "will stay in touch with officials on the ground about additional assistance we can provide."

"[Biden] has been told of the bridge collapse in Pittsburgh," Psaki tweeted. "Our team is in touch with state and local officials on the ground as they continue to gather information about the cause of the collapse."

Psaki added that Biden is "grateful to the first responders who rushed to assist the drivers who were on the bridge at the time."

Gainey said the bridge collapse highlights the need for infrastructure improvements.

“We need it,” the mayor said. “We know we have bridges that need to be taken care of.”

Gainey said the bridge was last inspected in September. Inspections dating back to 2011 show the bridge has been rated in poor condition, according to the National Bridge Inventory.

The American Society of Civil Engineers said in a 2021 report that 46,154 bridges were considered in poor condition, or about 7.5% of the country’s 617,000 bridges.

U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, a Democrat whose district includes the city of Pittsburgh, said he anticipates the bridge collapse to "disrupt transportation" for months.

Doyle added that he's been in touch with the White House, Gainey and Fitzgerald "to ask for help and facilitate coordination on rebuilding it."

On Twitter, Doyle wrote that this is a "tragic example of why the [infrastructure] bill Congress just enacted is needed. We should be constantly investing MORE in our infrastructure so our bridges and other public works don’t reach this point of disrepair."

In an interview Thursday previewing the president's visit to Pittsburgh, Fitzgerald told the Post-Gazette that there are structures in the region built almost a century ago that, without the infrastructure investment, are at risk of failing by the end of the decade.

St. Bede Catholic School near Frick Park, which had been on a two-hour snow delay, canceled classes Friday because of the bridge collapse. A strong smell of natural gas was reported in the vicinity of the school, a spokeswoman said.

Pittsburgh Public Schools also adjusted because of the collapse. The district said in a news release that all K-5, K-8, 6-8 and special education schools would move to remote learning because of the collapse and a high volume of driver call-offs. High schools and 6-12 schools were continuing with in-person classes on a two-hour delay schedule. Transportation is canceled, the district said, as is grab-and-go meal service.

Melissa Bakth, 43, who lives near Frick Park, was in bed around 6:55 a.m. when she heard the four-lane bridge collapse, followed by the rushing sound of the natural gas line breaking.

“There was a boom, then a monster sound,” Bakth said. “It was so loud, and it didn’t stop. It could’ve been me. I’m on that bridge every day. It’s very, very busy.”