Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Shoddy Construction

On November 7, 1940, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which had only been open for four months, collapsed during 42 mile an hour winds.

The bridge earned the nickname "Galloping Gertie", because of its rolling, undulating motions. Motorists crossing the 2,800-foot center span sometimes felt as if they were traveling on a giant roller coaster, watching the cars ahead disappear completely for a few moments as if they had been dropped into the trough of a large wave.

A survivor of this disaster, Leonard Coatsworth described what happened:

Just as I drove past the towers, the bridge began to sway violently from side to side. Before I realized it, the tilt became so violent that I lost control of the car... I jammed on the brakes and got out, only to be thrown onto my face against the curb... Around me I could hear concrete cracking. I started to get my dog Tubby, but was thrown again before I could reach the car. The car itself began to slide from side to side of the roadway.

On hands and knees most of the time, I crawled 500 yards [450 m] or more to the towers... My breath was coming in gasps; my knees were raw and bleeding, my hands bruised and swollen from gripping the concrete curb... Toward the last, I risked rising to my feet and running a few yards at a time... Safely back at the toll plaza, I saw the bridge in its final collapse and saw my car plunge into the Narrows.

A dog died in the collapse, though no human lives were lost.

Following are some photos of the disaster:

The bridge twisting prior to the collapse

One side was 28 feet higher than the other at this moment of extreme twist


After it was all over.

A new, better designed bridge was opened on this spot ten years later, which is still in service today. A second span, set to open this year, will help alleviate the large volume of traffic which crosses each day.

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