Although bridges are among the greatest engineering feats in history, in rare cases they have failed unexpectedly and catastrophically due to structural deficiencies, weather conditions, or excessive weight. These seven collapses are among the deadliest bridge disasters in history.
Bridge das Barcas
Victims: Est. 4000
The deadliest bridge collapse in history occurred during the Peninsula War as Napoleon’s forces attacked the Portuguese city of Porto. As the first battle of Porto raged on March 29, 1809, thousands of civilians attempted to flee a bayonet charge from the French Imperial Army by crossing the Ponte das Barcas, a floating bridge built in 1806 connecting some twenty boats with steel cables. The overloaded bridge collapsed under the weight of the crowds, and around 4,000 Portuguese civilians and French legionaries drowned in the Douro River.
Great Yarmouth Suspension Bridge
Mirth suddenly turned to horror in the English town of Great Yarmouth on the afternoon of May 2, 1845. To promote the arrival of William Cooke’s circus, clown Arthur Nelson had planned to ride the rising tide of the Bure river in a basin pulled by four geese. Despite the precipitation, several thousand spectators lined up on the banks and hundreds more, including many children, invaded the suspension bridge spanning the river to watch the show. As Nelson passed under the bridge, which opened in 1829, spectators suddenly moved from side to side to continue watching the Clown’s Journey. The sudden change in weight made the chains of the bridge crack. When the bridge became perpendicular, children were crushed against the parapet railing before the bridge fell into the river. An imperfectly welded joint was blamed for the collapse, which killed 79 people, including 59 children, some of whom were only two years old.
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Lower Chain Bridge
As a thunderstorm hit Angers, France on April 16, 1850, a battalion of nearly 500 French soldiers struggled to stay upright as it crossed the Lower Chain Bridge spanning the Maine River. Strong winds, combined with the force of the soldiers’ rhythmic footsteps, severely swayed the 335-foot-long suspension bridge, breaking its wire ropes. One of the cast-iron towers of the 11-year-old structure collapsed on top of the soldiers and the bridge collapsed into the river below. An investigation into the accident, which left 226 dead, blamed the storm, corrosion of the bridge anchors and the synchronous pace of the soldiers. The collapse, along with others like the one in Great Yarmouth, raised concerns about the safety of suspension bridges, and two decades passed before another was built in France. The disaster also reiterated the importance for soldiers to “break the pace” when crossing bridges to avoid dangerous resonances.
Whangaehu River Railway Bridge
New Zealand, 1953
At 10:21 p.m. on Christmas Eve in 1953, a Wellington-Auckland express passenger train with 285 passengers and crew on board approached the Whangaehu River rail bridge in countryside of Tangiwai, New Brunswick. Zealand. A few minutes earlier, a volcanic mud flow from nearby Mount Ruapehu had undermined part of the bridge and six railroad cars plunged into the river. The locomotive crew’s swift action to apply the emergency brake and sand the tracks to hasten the train to a stop prevented three first-class cars from leaving the tracks, but the crew were among the 151 you are. Visiting New Zealand on her first royal tour as monarch, Queen Elizabeth II expressed sympathy for the victims on her Auckland Christmas show hours after the crash and visited the survivors.
With its artistic and innovative design, the Morandi Bridge became an instant landmark in the Italian port city of Genoa after it opened in 1967. But on the morning of August 14, 2018, the cables of the south stay cables of the bridge broke during ‘a heavy summer downpour, causing sections of its western side to rupture. Dozens of cars on the A10 motorway fell 150 feet into the Polcevera River and adjacent streets and railroads. One of the bridge’s three narrow A-frame towers collapsed, but the part remained standing. An independent investigation has blamed the collapse, which left 43 dead and 16 injured, to corrosion of steel cables after cracks in the concrete of the bridge allowed water and salt air to seep through. infiltrate inside. A replacement bridge was inaugurated in August 2020.
Sunshine Skyway Bridge
On the morning of May 9, 1980, a sudden gust engulfed the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, spanning the mouth of Tampa Bay south of St. Petersburg, Florida. With its radar down, the cargo of nearly 20 tons MV Venture Summit collided with two of the bridge’s support columns as it struggled to navigate the bay’s navigation channel through fog, torrential downpours and hurricane-force winds. A 1,200-foot-long section of the southbound span fell into the water with six cars, a pickup truck and a Greyhound bus. The crash killed 35 people, although the driver of the pickup truck survived the 150-foot drop when he managed to swim to safety after his vehicle bounced off the cargo ship’s hull into the bay. A replacement span was opened in 1987.
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Mississippi River Bridge I-35W
During the evening rush hour on August 1, 2007, the center span of an eight-lane steel truss arch bridge, the one that carried Interstate 35W over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota, suddenly collapsed. The neighboring sections then collapsed. Commuters aboard 111 vehicles and 18 construction workers fell up to 115 feet on the river and its banks. The accident left 13 dead and 145 injured. According to a National Transportation Safety Board investigation, the metal gussets on the bridge were too thin to support the weight of the span, as well as rush hour traffic and construction equipment on the bridge at the time of the crash. A replacement bay was opened in September 2008.