Minn. Bridge Collapse Survivor: 'I Called on God'

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The I-35 West bridge spanning the Mississippi River used to be one of the busiest in Minnesota, carrying 140,000 cars a day.

But three years ago, Aug. 1, 2007, the bridge collapsed during evening rush hour -- killing 13 people and injuring 145 others.

Michelle McClain was driving on the bridge that day. Her car was the last to make it across.

"I left work a little bit late that day," she recalled. "I was getting on the 35 West bridge and it was a day just like any other. And I hear a big boom. And the bridge starts to move."

McClain said she initially thought it was an earthquake, but the shaking got so bad that the concrete began to crack in front of her.

"What I now know is that the bridge was already starting to collapse from behind us. And then all of a sudden I just dropped and at that point, I thought 'Okay, I'm falling I'm going to hit the water. What am I going to do when I hit the water?' And I thought 'I won't make it. It's too far. This is it,'" McClain said.

Despite the fear and chaos, she said she called on God.

"I just yelled out 'God get me out of here! Help!' And in that moment it was as if God and I just synched up and all the fear was gone," McClain recalled. "There was just an instant peace that came over and He said 'Michelle your foot is still on the accelerator -- go.'"

"And I floored it, climbing up the hill saying, 'I can do this. I can do this.' And I get off the bridge and pull off to the side. I'm looking in my rear view mirror just screaming 'come on! Somebody come on! There has to be somebody else!'" McClain continued.

"And I realized at that moment there was nobody else coming. I was the last one and it was a very lonely feeling from the time that bridge collapsed and I fell," she said. "Until that moment, it was just me and God. There was nobody else."

Rescue crews used boats to search for victims. In the days following the tragedy, a city in shock gathered to remember the victims. There, McClain left a handwritten letter for the families left behind.

"I just wanted those who maybe didn't know Jesus to see His words and to see that there's peace that that might bring others," she said. "I knew where I was leaning for my strength. Where were other people leaning? Where were they going for their hope, for their comfort?"

Five months later, the National Transportation Safety Board completed its investigation, citing a "design flaw" as the reason for the bridge collapse. The 40-year-old structure simply could not support the load it was meant to carry.

McClain didn't point blame for the collapse and said she was just relieved to know why the bridge gave way.

"Nobody intentionally built that bridge thinking it might collapse someday," she said. "Granted, we can do a better job and we've learned some lessons from this accident. But that's truly what it is in my mind... an accident. Nobody did this intentionally."

On Sept. 8, 2008, the Minnesota Department of Transportation completed work on the new I-35 West Saint Anthony Falls Bridge. Less than a mile away, massive pieces of the old bridge are stored behind a fence.

McClain says her faith in God coupled with counseling and group therapy has made her stronger. After coming so close to death, she cherishes what's most precious in life.

"You will not find the peace that surpasses all understanding unless you put all of your faith in Jesus Christ," she said. "And in that moment -- and we'll all experience it -- in that moment when you're about ready to leave this earth, that's where your peace is going to come from."

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CBN News
Mia Evans

Mia Evans

The 700 Club

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