MOUNT VERNON, Wash. -- An Interstate 5 bridge over a river north of Seattle collapsed Thursday evening, dumping vehicles and people into the water, the Washington State Patrol said.
The four-lane bridge over the Skagit River collapsed about 7 p.m., Trooper Mark Francis said. Skagit County Sheriff's Department said three people - two men and one woman - were rescued from the water and transported to area hospitals. All three were reported in stable condition.
State authorities say there were no fatalities.
While the cause of the collapse was being investigated, witnesses reported seeing a semi-truck with an oversized load crossing the bridge and striking the beams on the north end before the bridge collapsed.
"I saw it. I was less than 50 feet away from the truck when it hit it," witness Dale Ogden told KING 5. "I had just passed it in the fast lane southbound and it had an oversized load. It was approximately 12 feet wide and over 14 feet tall. It was in the slow lane when I came by...I was behind the flag car and in front of the truck in the other lane and I saw the whip - normally tells you how high they can clear - start hitting the bridge. I looked in my rearview mirror knowing this was not going to turn out well."
"I saw the truck strike the right corner of the bridge. It almost tipped the truck over but it came back down. It tipped it up to about a 30 degree angle to the left and it came back down on its wheels and almost instantaneously behind that I saw girders falling in my rearview mirror."
Washington State Patrol is investigating the incident and is asking anyone who witnessed the truck hitting the bridge to contact them at 1-360-654-1204.
Xavier Grospe, 62, who lives near the river, said he could see three cars with what appeared to be one person per vehicle. The vehicles were sitting still in the water, partially submerged and partly above the waterline, and the apparent drivers were sitting either on top of the vehicles or on the edge of open windows.
Helicopter footage showed several rescue boats at the bridge collapse scene with several ambulances waiting on the shore. One rescue boat left the scene with one person strapped into a stretcher.
A damaged red car and a damaged pickup truck were visible in the water, which appeared so shallow it barely reached the top of the car's hood. Crowds of people lined the river and watched the scene unfold.
Skagit County Sheriff Will Reichardt said rescue crews were nearby when they got the call.
"It was very fortunate that we literally had our boat operator on duty in the water in the area when the call came in. We were in the water within a few minutes," said Reichardt.
Alternate I-5 routes through Mount Vernon
The bridge collapse shut down I-5 completely, paralyzing traffic and prompting officials to detour drivers along alternate routes.
"We are going to be involved in a very vigorous effort to get the corridor north-sound again," said Governor Jay Inslee, who toured the damaged area late Thursday night. "We already started the process tonight of designing a system of detours to accommodate the time period it will take to replace this bridge...I have spoken to mayors of alternate routes that we hope to put into use."
Drivers were being diverted to alternate routes through Mount Vernon. Southbound traffic was being diverted to SR 20 while northbound traffic was being diverted to the East College Way Exit. Drivers are being asked to avoid the area altogether.
Bridge listed as 'functionally obsolete'
The bridge is not considered structurally deficient but is listed as being "functionally obsolete" - a category meaning that their design is outdated, such as having narrow shoulders or low clearance underneath, according to a database compiled by the Federal Highway Administration.
The bridge was built in 1955 and has a sufficiency rating of 57.4 out of 100, according to federal records. That is well below the statewide average rating of 80, according to an Associated Press analysis of federal data, but 759 bridges in the state have a lower sufficiency score.
According to a 2012 Skagit County Public Works Department, 42 of the county's 108 bridges that are 50 years or older. The document says eight of the bridges are more than 70 years old and two are over 80.
Washington state was given a C in the American Society of Civil Engineers' 2013 infrastructure report card and a C- when it came to the state's bridges. The group said more than a quarter of Washington's 7,840 bridges are considered structurally deficient of functionally obsolete.