MOUNT VERNON — A bit of luck, some innovation and cooperation by emergency responders helped save three people who fell as the Interstate 5 bridge collapsed into the Skagit River.
First responders and good Samaritans are being hailed as heroes in their response to the collapse of the Skagit River Bridge Thursday evening.
“Last night, Washington got what it really needed — a great group of rescuers and a measure of luck,” said Gov. Jay Inslee at a press conference in Mount Vernon Friday afternoon.
He thanked police officers who managed to shut down the bridge quickly to prevent others from falling into the chasm left by a 160-foot span that had collapsed into the cold and fast-moving water below.
He called the rescues “remarkable” given the conditions. State Patrol was able to cut off access to the bridge moments after the collapse. Multiple fire and police departments responded, some from counties away.
Luck may be one factor, but preparedness is another. Skagit County agencies, area dike districts, fire and police departments and many other departments practice every year for a flood emergency. The drills usually happen in October, during “Flood Awareness Week.”
Most agencies practice safety on the water, said Earl Klinefelter, director of the Skagit EMS Commission.
“What isn’t standard is working together like they did and supporting the efforts of the people doing the water rescue and the dive teams on the water,” he said. “… There’s some luck involved. People survived the fall. After that, it’s skill and timing and finding the right resources in the right place.”
Volunteers from the Mount Baker chapter of the American Red Cross showed up to feed and hydrate the crews, who worked late into the night to ensure everyone was out of the water safely. Several businesses also helped out.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray praised the “incredible group of people on the ground” in Skagit County who quickly reacted to the collapse.
“There was not a collapse of our first responders,” U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell said.
Mount Vernon Mayor Jill Boudreau in a press release thanked first responders and cooperation between city and county workers.
“I am so proud of the amazing community support and compassion we showed in quickly responding to the Skagit River I-5 bridge collapse,” she said. “It is truly a miracle that we have no fatalities — and only non-life-threatening injuries from the incident.”
Even hospital staff stood ready to handle the challenge of whatever the collapse may have brought, said Kari Ranten, spokeswoman for Skagit Valley Hospital.
“Our ER was staffed up to handle whatever came our way this evening,” she said “To hear the news that the bridge went down was an amazing thing.”
Reporter Lynsi Burton contributed to this report.