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The Mississippi River bridge collapse in Minneapolis claimed 13 lives on August 1

With the evening rush hour

News of the Year | August 2007

Issue: "News of the Year," Dec. 29, 2007

With hundreds of cars per minute streaming across the I-35W Mississippi River bridge in Minneapolis, the main spans of the 40-year-old, eight-lane structure inexplicably gave way. The collapse sent cars and people plummeting as much as 116 feet to the streets and river below, claiming 13 lives and traumatizing dozens more.

From a partially submerged snarl of broken concrete and twisted steel, stories of near-death escapes and harrowing rescues emerged. A school bus packed full with 60 children on the way home from a field trip fell from the bridge but providentially came to rest right-side-up on land. The children suffered only minor injuries.

Citizen Good Samaritans who witnessed the disaster rushed in to help survivors, some of whom had fallen into the water's strong current. Onlookers carried one man confined to a wheelchair from his perilously positioned van to the safety of the riverbank. Others assisted drivers who had come to a stop on treacherously steep angles of collapsed roadway.

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Before such recovery efforts were over, tough questions began to swirl. How could government allow one of the state's most highly trafficked bridges to reach such a dangerous level of disrepair? Why had officials not responded to a 2005 study that reported signs of "fatigue cracking" and declared the bridge "structurally deficient"?

The bridge underwent annual inspections and had been judged safe for operation. But the incident prompted greater scrutiny of other old bridges in the area and around the country, some of which were subsequently shut down, as federal officials launched an investigation into the nation's aging highway infrastructure.

To date, authorities have offered no official explanation as to why the bridge failed. An ongoing investigation could press well into 2008 before any definite answers are made public.

Also in August ...

A sudden collapse Aug. 6 left six men trapped in a Utah coal mine with little hope of survival. Rescue efforts ground to a halt 10 days later when three people were killed and six more injured in a second collapse as they sought to tunnel horizontally toward the location of the initial accident.

Search crews resumed their work soon after but ultimately failed to locate the lost men, calling off the operation after 25 days. Tests proved that underground oxygen levels were too low to sustain human life.

Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee grabbed headlines Aug. 11 with his surprising second-place finish in the GOP Iowa straw poll. Though Mitt Romney won the poll with 31.6 percent of the vote, Huckabee's showing moved the lesser-known candidate into the top tier and sparked a surge in the polls that has continued through the end of the year.

Reports of lead paint on toys manufactured in China pressed American toy maker Mattel to recall more than 9 million of its imported products. The company's Fisher-Price division had recalled 1.5 million toys from a different Chinese supplier earlier in the month for the same reason.

Numerous other toy makers and retailers issued smaller recalls numbering in the hundreds of thousands. The breadth of the problem sparked Congress to begin discussions of a toy safety bill that would require greater scrutiny of Chinese imports.

Succumbing to intense pressure from congressional Democrats and the public, Alberto Gonzales announced his resignation as attorney general Aug. 27. The move disappointed President George W. Bush, who had hoped Gonzales would remain and help to exonerate the White House and Justice Department of any wrongdoing in the controversial firing of nine federal prosecutors.

White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, the man credited with orchestrating the political rise of President Bush, resigned three days before a Labor Day deadline that would have required he remain to the end of Bush's second term. Some Democrats sought to cast Rove's exit as another casualty of a scandalized administration. But the 56-year-old insisted the decision had more to do with family considerations.

The national housing market took a turn for the worse over the summer of 2007 as many subprime borrowers faced increasing mortgage payments they could not afford. A rise in foreclosures pressed some lenders to stop offering home equity or stated income loans. In August, American Home Mortgage filed for bankruptcy, subprime giant Ameriquest went out of business, privately held lender First Magnus stopped funding new home loans, and leading national lender Countrywide took out an emergency $11.5 billion credit line to avoid bankruptcy.

President Bush responded to the crisis with promises of relief for homeowners facing possible foreclosure. He has since unveiled a plan to freeze some adjustable mortgage rates for five years if the borrower cannot afford a higher payment.

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