OAKLAND, Calif. - A stretch of highway near the San Francisco-Oakland Bay
Bridge collapsed Sunday after a gasoline tanker crashed and burst into flames,
leaving one of the nation's busiest spans in a state of near paralysis.
Officials said traffic could be disrupted for months.
Flames shot 200 feet in the
air and the heat was intense enough to melt part of the freeway and cause the
collapse, but the truck's driver walked away from the scene with second-degree
burns. No other injuries were reported.
Aerial view of the freeway interchange that funnels traffic
off the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge collapsed onto another highway
ramp in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, April 29, 2007, after a gasoline tanker
truck overturned and caught fire, authorities said. [AP]
"I've never seen anything like it," Officer Trent Cross of the California
Highway Patrol said of the crumpled interchange. "I'm looking at this thinking,
'Wow, no one died - that's amazing. It's just very fortunate."
Authorities said the damage could take months to repair, and that it would
cause the worst disruption for Bay Area commuters since the 1989 Loma Prieta
earthquake damaged a section of the Bay Bridge itself.
Nearly 75,000 vehicles use the portion of the road every day. But because the
accident occured where three highways converge, authorities said it could cause
commuting problems for hundreds of thousands of people.
Transportation officials said they already had added trains to the Bay Area
Rapid Transit light rail system that takes commuters across San Francisco Bay,
and were urging people to telecommute if possible.
State officials said motorists who try to take alternate routes Monday
instead of relying on public transportation would face nightmarish commutes.
The tanker carrying 8,600 gallons of gasoline ignited around 3:45 a.m. after
crashing into a pylon on the interchange, which connects westbound lanes of
Interstate 80 to southbound I-880, on the edge of downtown Oakland about half a
mile from the Bay Bridge's toll plaza.
A preliminary investigation indicated he may have been speeding on the
curving road, Cross said.
The fire melted a second interchange from eastbound I-80 to eastbound I-580
located above the first interchange, causing a 250-yard section of the roadway
to collapse onto the roadway below, according to the highway patrol.
Witnesses reported flames from the blaze reached up to 200 feet high.
Late Sunday morning, the charred section of collapsed freeway was draped at a
sharp angle onto the highway beneath, exposing a web of twisted metal beneath
The Bay Bridge consists of two heavily traveled, double-decked bridges about
two miles long straddling San Francisco Bay.
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said the accident showed how fragile the Bay
area's transportation network is, whether to an earthquake or terrorist attack,
and has the potential to have a major economic effect on the city.
"It's another giant wakeup call," Newsom told reporters at the California
Democratic Party convention in San Diego.