Michele McLane: Surviving the Minneapolis Bridge Collapse
By Mia Evans-Saracual
The 700 Club
Michele McLane: It was August 1, 2007. I left work a little bit late that day.
I was getting on the 35 W Bridge, and it was a day just like any other. I hear a big boom. The bridge starts to move. I thought, We’re having an earthquake in Minnesota? Really? But it got worse. The concrete was cracking in front of me. What I now know is that the bridge was already starting to collapse from behind us. Then all of a sudden I just dropped, and at that point when I dropped, I thought, Okay, I'm falling. I'm going to hit the water. What am I going to do when I hit the water? I won't make it. It's too far. This is it. With all that terror and all that fear and the chaos and the noise going on around me, I just yelled out God, "Get me out of here. Help!" In that moment, it was as if God and I just synched up and all the fear was gone. There was just an instant peace that came over, and He said, “Michelle, your foot is still on the accelerator. Go!” I realized it was. I was still running the gas a little bit, which was probably keeping me at that angle. I floored it, climbing up the hill. 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!" I realized at that moment there was nobody else coming. I was the last one."
Thirteen people died when the I-35 W bridge collapsed in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota, during evening rush hour. One hundred and forty-five people were hurt when pieces of the structure fell into the Mississippi River below. Rescue crews used boats to search for victims. In the days following the tragedy, a city in shock gathered to remember the victims at a nearby memorial site. There, Michele left a handwritten letter for the families left behind.
McLane: I just wanted those who maybe didn't know Jesus to see His words and to see that there's peace. 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 made to carry.
Mia Evans-Saracual:There could be a lot of bitterness or blaming or pointing the finger. How did you process that?
McLane: I was relieved just to know the answer. Nobody intentionally built that bridge thinking it might collapse someday. 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, it was an accident. Nobody did this intentionally.
On September 8, 2008, the Minnesota Department of Transportation completed work on the new I-35 W St. Anthony Falls bridge. Less than a mile away, massive pieces of the old bridge are stored behind a fence. For Michele, seeing the debris and mangled metal brought back unexpected memories.
McLane: I had not seen those pieces until earlier this week. So seeing those pieces was very emotional. Many of those pieces I drove over and this manmade structure collapsed. It's not supposed to do that.
Evans-Saracual: Michele, did you ever ask yourself, “Why? Why did I survive?”
McLane: I think it’s natural to do that in the beginning, but you can’t stay there in asking why. I think that you can get caught up in guilt. If you stay in that place, you’re not doing everything God wants you to do. You have to come to a realization it just wasn’t your time. Let it go, just let it go. Give it to the Lord and walk away from it.
Two years after the accident, Michele has no problem making the daily commute into downtown Minneapolis.
Evans-Saracual: God has really healed you through this process, because we drove across the 35 W bridge today and it really doesn't affect you. Why do you think that is?
McLane: I think it's because early on I recognized that there are going to be some traumatic things that I'm not going to like but I refuse to live in that fear. I'm not going to give into that. That's not what God would want.
Michele says her faith in God coupled with counseling and group therapy has made her stronger. After coming so close to death, Michele cherishes what’s most precious in life.
McLane: You will not find the peace that surpasses all understanding unless you put all of your faith in Jesus Christ. 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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