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Washington bridge collapse severs vital link

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. -- Federal officials were searching the country for a possible temporary replacement for a bridge that collapsed along the crucial Interstate 5 corridor, but Washington Gov. Jay Inslee cautioned Friday that major disruptions will last for weeks, if not months.

A truck hauling an oversized load of drilling equipment hit an overhead bridge girder Thursday night, sending a section of the highway into the river below.

The Canadian truck driver watched helplessly as the structure collapsed in his rearview mirror. Two other vehicles plunged into the Skagit River, but all three occupants escaped with only minor injuries.

At a news conference, Inslee said federal officials were looking for a prefabricated structure to replace the 160-foot section that fell into the river. If one is found, a temporary fix could be in place in weeks. If one can't be quickly secured, the governor said it could be months before a replacement can be built.

"You cannot overstate the importance of this corridor to Washington state," Inslee said.

Traffic on the interstate and surrounding roads was backed up for miles throughout the area, a situation that the governor said would continue indefinitely.

The bridge -- about 60 miles north of Seattle and 40 miles south of the Canadian border -- was used by an average of 71,000 vehicles a day,

The bridge's collapse put a new focus on the nation's failing infrastructure, an issue that President Barack Obama has highlighted in his second-term agenda. It came almost six years after a highway span fell in Minnesota at rush hour, killing 13 people and injuring 145. Last week, Obama ordered a 50 percent cut in the time it takes executive-branch agencies to start major road and bridge projects.

The collapsed span was built in 1955, according to the National Bridge Inventory Database, a compilation of U.S. government data. Its condition was rated below average compared with others in the state.

Cynthia Scott, wife of truck driver William Scott, said Friday from the couple's home near Spruce Grove, Alberta, that her husband saw the collapse.

"He looked in the mirrors and it just dropped out of sight," Cynthia Scott said. "I spoke to him seconds after it happened. He was just horrified."

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