Three transients arrested in Atlanta
highway bridge collapse
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[April 01, 2017]
By Rich McKay
ATLANTA (Reuters) - Three people described
as transients were in custody Friday in connection with the fiery
collapse of a major interstate highway bridge running through the heart
of Atlanta, as officials said it would take months to repair the damage.
No one was hurt when the span gave way on Thursday evening as a fire
raged beneath it, sending thick black smoke into the air and briefly
igniting a fireball before the structure fell in on itself, snarling
Inspectors have determined that at least 700 feet (213 meters) of
Interstate 85 must be replaced, including three sections of the
northbound bridge and three on the southbound side, as well as their
support columns, officials said.
"The repairs will take at least several months," State Transportation
Commissioner Russell McMurry told a news conference. "We are asking for
the public's continued patience."
Three people were taken into custody in connection with the fire, said
Glenn Allen, a spokesman for the Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire
Commission. One suspect, Basil Eleby, was charged with criminal damage
to property; the others, Sophia Bruner and Barry Thomas, were each
charged with criminal trespass, he said.
All appeared to be transients, Allen said.
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao on Friday directed federal
officials to award $10 million to begin repairs.
Some 250,000 motorists use the highway each day to travel in and out of
downtown Atlanta, state officials said.
As the fire raged on Thursday, the smoke was so thick that residents
living nearby in the heart of Atlanta said they thought a storm was
coming or that the sun had set early.
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Emergency personnel work the scene of a bridge collapse at I-85 in
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., March 30, 2017. Courtesy Curtis
Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Handout via REUTERS
The flames burned so fiercely that concrete cracked and steel
melted, even as dozens of firefighters battled the blaze, officials
The cause of the inferno remained unknown. McMurry said construction
materials belonging to the state, including PVC pipes, were stored
under the highway but would not have caught fire on their own.
"We are certainly as eager as anyone to find out (what caused it),"
Hours after the collapse, drivers were still struggling to get off
the highway. Government offices in Atlanta opened an hour late to
give people extra time to get to work.
(Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York and Sharon
Bernstein in Sacramento, California; Editing by Andrew Hay and Lisa
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