Louisville, KY Bridge Collapse, Dec 1893


A Span Falls With Fatal Effect At Louisville

The False Work and Iron Superstructure Give Way - Many Workmen Pinned to the Bottom of the River by Huge Iron Girders -“ Hunt for the Dead and Injured.

A dispatch from Louisville, Ky., says:
The bridge which is being built across the Ohio River between this city and Jeffersonville has added another long list of victims to the fatalaties [sic] which have marked every step of its progress.
Forty-five men were carried down by the giving way of the second channel span at 10:20 o'clock a. m. That night at 8 o'clock another span fell, being blown down by a sharp wind storm. The night watchman and several workmen were on the span.
Of the men on the bridge when it fell seven bodies have been recovered. Fourteen men were more or less seriously injured, fourteen are almost certainly known to be in the water and ten who are unaccounted for may be dead or may have escaped.
The cause of the disaster cannot be definitely stated, but there seems little doubt that the bridge builders were guilty of taking terrible risk. Workmen say the false work under the span had been settling for three days and that the company was straining every nerve to complete the span before it should fall.
A high wind sprang up and caused the weak structure to give way. The bridge people say the wind alone was to blame, and that the breaking of the span was caused by the toppling over of the great platform called the "traveler." The traveler is a great mass of framework, seventy feet high by twenty wide, and forty long.
It is moved on a track on the bridge, and has no other supports. When the wind sprang up the great timbers began rocking, each vibration weakening the frame false work until it gave way at last.
The first crash, when the centre bent gave way was at 10:25, and then it was that the great number of fatalities occurred. A few minutes later a bent, on which there was but little of the bridge proper, gave way on the Indiana side. In this it is believed that but one man was killed.
He was caught by a rope and dragged beneath the water. The crash attracted the attention of those on the shore, and many turned away their eyes as they saw the men struggling in mid-air in their mad efforts to climb out of danger.
When the huge mass of material struck the water, all was concealed for an instant by the spray that was thrown high into the air. As the water subsided, here and there could be seen men struggling desperately to climb upon the timbers that thrust their ends above the water.
A few succeeded in clinging to places of safety, and were quickly rescued by boats that put out from the shore. Others struggled desperately, and were carried off by the current to sink almost as rescue was at hand. The wounded were soon removed to places of safety, and as quickly as possible a tugboat was chartered and put to work removing the debris.
When the end slipped the whole work trembled, and the men, realizing their danger, started for the piers. The central bent was the first to give way, and the men on this bent went down to be covered by the mass of iron and timber of the other bents, which fell almost immediately, carrying with them the other workmen who failed to reach places of safety on the piers. The north bent, or the one attached to the Indiana pier, did not fall for fifteen minutes after the other parts went down. There were forty-eight men on the bridge when the alarm was given by the engineer in charge of the work. Of those that went down, some were covered by amass of timber, from beneath which it will be days before their bodies are recovered.

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