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Bridge accident baffles Chicago engineers

CHICAGO -- Damage to a section of the Michigan Avenue Bridge, which mysteriously popped up, sent a huge crane skidding and led to six injuries, is more serious than initially thought, Mayor Richard Daley said Monday.

But Daley was quick to point out the bridge tender operating another section of the four-leaf span, which was completed in 1920, was not at fault in Sunday's mishap. Officials with the construction company rebuilding the span across the Chicago River also said it appeared the bridge tender did nothing wrong.

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'This is a very dangerous situation. You have to handle it carefully. You don't just run in there,' said Daley, who insisted the city was not at fault.

Daley said damage is worse than initially thought and that the city worker who had opened the north section of the bridge to let a sailboat pass was not at fault.

City engineers said it may be at least a week before they determine what caused the southeast section of the bridge to suddenly snap up 'just like a catapult.'

'I looked out the window and thought, 'Oh my God,'' said a woman who lives in a nearby highrise. 'The bridge just flew up. Those bridges don't fly up. They go up slowly.'

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It normally takes the bridge 1 minute to go up when it works properly. Witnesses said Sunday, the bridge flew up in less than 5 seconds.

The bridge toppled an unsecured crane two stories, where it wedged between the bridge and roadway below. The arm snapped off and landed on Wacker Drive, which crosses Michigan at the south end, and the wrecking ball in the back seat of a car.

Six people were reported injured, none seriously. That section of the bridge was closed as part of a massive rebuilding project that already is over budget and, Daley said Monday, may be delayed beyond its late November completion date because of the mishap.

'It appears the bridge had lost balance and the reasons for that are undetermined at this time,' Chicago Transportation Secretary Jeff Boyle said.

Another witness said the flying rivets sounded 'like a machine gun.'

'We heard some noise. When we turned around we saw this coming real fast,' said the car's driver, construction worker Jesus Lopez, who was not injured.

'The ball is right inside my back seat,' he said.

Bystanders said the six injuries resulted when people aboard a Chicago Transit Authority bus panicked and trampled each other in an attempt to get off the vehicle, which was showered by debris.

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'We heard things falling on the bus. The passengers panicked and ran to the back of the bus and apparently some were hurt because they all piled up,' one passenger said.

Police closed off a more than half-mile stretch of Michigan Avenue because they said they are unsure about the stability of the rest of the roadway, which has at least two levels.

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