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Posted: December 30, 2008 5:00 a.m.

1 dead, 18 injured in US bridge collapse

ATLANTA - Workers building a soaring pedestrian bridge plunged dozens of feet Friday when the structure collapsed at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, killing one worker and injuring 18 others.

The workers were all atop the "canopy walk," an elevated pathway that reaches up to 40 feet (12 meters) high, when it gave way around 9 a.m., Atlanta fire officials said. Joggers, dog walkers and others were in an adjacent park, but no visitors were in the area of the collapse, authorities said.

Authorities had few details of what caused the bridge to fall and Atlanta Fire Battalion Chief Ken Byers said it was uncertain whether concrete was being poured at the time, as was planned.

The construction was part of a 600-foot-long (183-meter-long) skywalk that the 30-acre (12-hectare) garden's Web site said would be the "only canopy level pathway of its kind in the U.S." It was to be supported by a system of steel cable wires "designed to hold the structure firm and steady without impacting tree roots."

Witnesses described a frenzied scene after the walkway fell.

Electrical worker Juan Padilla and his partner had just taken a break from working under the bridge when he heard a stinging boom.

"It sounded like an explosion," he said, fighting back tears. "It was so tough. I feel very lucky. Me and my partner - we could have been under the bridge."

Byers said no workers were under the bridge when it collapsed.

The walkway's strewn remnants were ringed by yellow police tape and a part of the bridge still standing was abruptly cut off, with a red ladder leaning against it.

Two of the 16 patients taken to Grady Memorial Hospital had brain injuries and others reported hurt spines, backs and arms, said trauma surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Salomone. Four would be in intensive care, he said.

"The orthopedic injuries are potentially debilitating," he said.

Construction on the walkway began in September and a spring opening was planned for the 12-foot-wide (4-meter-wide) skyway, according to information on the garden's Web site.

"Our hearts go out to the family of the person that was killed," said Bill Pinto, president of Hardin Construction Co., which was doing the work.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration officer was at the scene to see if safety standards were followed, said OSHA spokesman Mike Wald.


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