Canadian police confirm five dead in overpass collapse near Montreal

Sunday, October 1st 2006, 11:42 am
By: News On 6

LAVAL, Quebec (AP) _ Quebec provincial police said Sunday that at least five people were crushed to death in their cars after the collapse of an overpass near Montreal.

The cars were pulled out about 15 hours after Saturday's dramatic lunchtime accident when a 65-foot stretch of three lanes of a viaduct collapsed, sending several other vehicles crashing onto Highway 19 below.

Firefighters and other workers had to use cranes and other heavy machinery to painstakingly break up the concrete into as many as 18 huge slabs, including a pedestrian sidewalk.

Three people were found in one car and two other bodies were recovered from the other car trapped by the falling concrete in Laval, police spokeswoman Isabelle Gendron said.

The vehicles were crushed so badly in the Saturday afternoon collapse that they barely reached the knees of one firefighter when lifted from under tons of concrete rubble Sunday.

``At this point the rescue operation is completed,'' Gendron said, noting that no other vehicles were trapped beneath the concrete.

Drivers on Highway 19 in the Greater Montreal Area slammed on their brakes and watched in horror as the overpass slowly collapsed shortly before 1 p.m.

Police said six people were injured, including two who were listed in critical condition, when a minivan and a motorcycle plunged off the overpass.

Doctors at Sacre-Coeur Hospital in Montreal said some of those injured had improved overnight but gave no further details.

One of the injured was counting his blessings the day after the collapse. Robert Hotte was driving over the viaduct when the road in front of him began to disappear.

``I was wondering what the ... what is happening,'' he told The Canadian Press. ``As we went down with the bridge, my first words were to say `Anne-Marie,' the name of my girlfriend. We went down, falling with the bridge. It was all dark.''

The vehicle crashed into the debris below, landing on the passenger side window. They crawled out a window, waiting for a few minutes in a police car for an ambulance to arrive and take them to hospital.

Hotte suffered some minor injuries and was released after X-rays. His girlfriend remained in the hospital in stable condition on Sunday, but she had some internal bleeding, Hotte said.

One witness told TVA television network that he noticed that the road sunk an inch or two when he traveled over the overpass minutes earlier, so he called emergency dispatchers.

Transport Quebec spokeswoman Josee Seguin said the overpass was built in 1970, while Laval Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt said it had passed an inspection test last year.

Seguin said the department heard about an hour before the accident that some pieces of concrete were falling off the overpass. She added that Transport Quebec then issued an advisory to traffic reporters to mention the debris.

A Transport Quebec inspector was sent to the site about 30 minutes before the tragedy but the overpass remained open.

``It is a viaduct that had never, until now, shown any signs of weakness,'' Vaillancourt said. ``It wasn't on the list of viaducts and bridges that needed to be repaired or replaced.''

It was the second serious overpass collapse in Laval in the last six years.

In 2000, a man died when a section of overpass that had been under construction for six months collapsed and eight 70-ton beams fell on the car he was riding in.

A coroner's report later concluded a construction company didn't properly secure the concrete beams, and accused the province's construction industry of shoddy work and questionable corporate practices.