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Join Date: Oct 2005
Location: Bay Area, CA
yea, it's all over the news.
Tanker fire destroys part of MacArthur Maze
2 freeways closed near Bay Bridge
Demian Bulwa and Peter Fimrite, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, April 29, 2007
Tank fire destroys portion of MacArthur Maze
Transit officials trying to find work-arounds
(04-29) 18:03 PDT OAKLAND -- Huge leaping flames from an exploding gasoline tanker melted the steel underbelly of a highway overpass in the East Bay's MacArthur Maze early this morning, causing it to collapse onto the roadway below and virtually ensuring major traffic problems for weeks to come.
The elevated roadway that fell carried eastbound traffic from the Bay Bridge onto Interstates 580 and 980 and state Highway 24. It draped like a blanket over a roadway below, a connector from southbound I-80 to I-880 that also was severely damaged.
The single-vehicle crash occurred on the lower roadway when the tanker, loaded with 8,600 gallons of unleaded gasoline and heading from a refinery in Benicia to a gas station on Hegenberger Road in Oakland, hit a guardrail at 3:41 a.m.
Engineers said the green steel frame of the I-580 overpass and the bolts holding the frame together began to melt and bend in the intense heat and that movement pulled the roadbed off its supports.
California Highway Patrol spokesman Trent Cross said the driver of the tanker, James Mosqueda, 51, of Woodland (Yolo County), was traveling too fast in a 50 mph zone when his truck overturned and burst into flames.
Mosqueda, an employee of Sabek Transportation in San Francisco for 10 months, got out of the truck on his own after it overturned and hailed a taxi that took him to Kaiser Hospital in Oakland, witnesses and police said.
He has been transferred to the burn unit at St. Francis Hospital in San Francisco, where his father said he was "doing OK" this afternoon, having sustained burns on his face, neck and hands. The family expected Mosqueda to remain hospitalalized two or three more days.
Cross said Mosqueda had a valid driver's license and there is no indication he was under the influence of alcohol or drugs when he crashed.
Oakland firefighters, the first public safety workers on the scene, arrived with two engines at 3:55 a.m., Capt. Cedric Price said.
"We didn't know it was a tanker truck that was involved. As soon as that was established we immediately upgraded to a large scale incident response team and added two more engines and two trucks," Price said.
Firefighters immediately noticed the upper connector ramp was buckling and seven minutes after they arrived -- at 4:02 a.m. -- it collapsed, Price said. Now there were no more structures threatened, the firefighters' approach shifted.
"With no structures or lives in jeopardy and with 8,000 gallons of flammable fuel involved, you're basically better off letting it burn itself out," said Price.
Firefighters used only water to control the blaze, which took about two hours, he said. Had there been lives at risk, firefighters would have used foam to fight the blaze, but it would have run off into the nearby Bay water, polluting it.
"That this didn't happen on a weekday morning might have been the only beauty of it," said Price.
With the help of protective gear and breathing devices, firefighter exposure to the fumes was minimal, according to Price. A total of 29 Oakland Fire Department personnel were on scene as well as one engine from Emeryville. A smaller crew of Oakland firefighters remained there through the early evening to watch for potential dangers.
Jennifer Summers, 36, was driving from her costume design job in San Francisco home to the Oakland hills just before 4 a.m. when she saw black smoke and realized the freeway was on fire. She quickly pulled off and looped around so she could see what was going on.
When she got out of her car, flames were shooting into the sky over multiple layers of freeway and she could hear loud crackling and explosions.
"There were bright, bright orange flames and they were huge," said Summers. "There were cars driving through the flames. The first cars slowed down like they didn't know what to do and then kept going. I was shocked."
Summers said dozens of vehicles stopped to watch the spectacle, which ended with a horrendous crash as the freeway collapsed in a torrent of fire and rubble.
"There was nothing you could do," she said. "I'm thinking, 'Oh my God, this is going to be a nightmare with the traffic problems we already have.' "
Isaac Rodriguez, a 53-year-old sanitation supervisor who works the graveyard shift at East Bay Municipal Utility District's sewage treatment plant, said his supervisor called him about 3:45 a.m. and told him to leave work because of a nearby explosion.
Rodriguez went outside with a co-worker and saw the I-880 connector about 50 feet above him engulfed in fire with flames leaping up to the I-580 connector above that.
"It was massive," Rodriguez said. "I saw movement and there was a man up there. I started talking to the guy. Are you the truck driver? 'Yes.' He said, 'I'm burned. I got out as soon as I could.' ''
The driver seemed disoriented.
"It looked at one time he was walking toward the truck again. I believe he was in shock,'' Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said he regretted not thinking to send a vehicle up to get the injured man. He and a coworker stood for some 40 minutes watching the freeway burn.
"It looked like a big slab of plastic because it was melted. It's made of steel and concrete and it was bent at both angles of the pillar. It really looked fake. ... It was an event last night that I'm not going to forget for a long time. It was incredible because it was a roar.
No sign of the truck remains at the scene. One Caltrans worker there early this morning held up his thumb and forefinger an inch apart to describe how big the tanker is now.
John Goodwin, a spokesman for the regional Metropolitan Transportation Commission, said the maze is one of the worst spots for traffic in the Bay Area.
"Westbound 80 is already the most congested route in the Bay Area, and it has been for many years," said Goodwin. "Also, the route coming off the Bay Bridge eastbound from Treasure Island is number 10 on the regional congestion list, and with 580 gone there will be a huge impact on that already-congested route."
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger plans to announce this evening that some Bay Area transit agencies will offer free rides tomorrow.
Goodwin anticipates that the impacts of the latest disaster will extend to roads far beyond the East Bay.
"This really strikes at the very center of the Bay Area freeway network," he said, predicting the closure of the two overpassess will "have a ripple effect" across the region.
"It will put more traffic on the San Mateo Bridge, the Golden Gate and the Richmond-San Rafael bridge," Goodwin said.
Some 35,000 cars travel the two-lane I-880 connector each day, and 45,000 cars use the I-580 connector, which is three lanes, said Caltrans Director Will Kempton.
Kempton said rebuilding the I-580 connector will cost tens of millions of dollars. The extent of the damage to the I-880 connector cannot be determined, he said, until the debris is cleared off.
"Initial indications are that it has been severely damaged," Kempton said "It will obviously need some work."
This wasn't the first major crash to clog the crucial traffic corridor through Oakland. On Feb. 5, 1995, a tanker loaded with liquefied gas crashed and burned on the MacArthur Maze, killing the driver, injuring 10 other people and creating an all-day traffic jam.
Witnesses said at the time that the tanker, which was changing lanes when it skidded out of control, created a 100-foot-tall fireball after it crashed on the connector between westbound I-80 and eastbound I-580, which is immediately northeast of the scene of today's crash.
The 1989 collapse of the Cypress Structure during the Loma Prieta earthquake caused years of detours and traffic problems in the same area.
Traffic on the affected roadways remains light this afternoon, apparently because many drivers canceled plans that would have required driving.
But major backups are expected, especially tonight when the Golden State Warriors take on the Dallas Mavericks tonight in the fourth game of their playoff series and Oakland's Oracle Arena.
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, in a press conference in San Diego Sunday, said that he has spoken to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's staff about the crash aftermath -- and particularly how to accomplish repairs quickly.
Newsom said state officials are "fastracking" the repairs by using some of the same shortcuts that got Interstate 10 rebulit quickly after Southern California's Northridge earthquake in 1994.
As many as 40 people stood gawking at the disaster scene at various points today. Most stood in a Caltrans construction area under the freeway and took pictures. Some said they had heard what sounded like train cars crashing together in the nearby freight yard this morning before they saw what had happened.
Everyone agreed that the weekday commute is going to be horrible.
"It's just going to be outrageous," said Gary Lewis of Oakland. "You'll have all this traffic merging at one time."
"They need to go back to the drawing board," said Sandra Moore of Oakland, who had driven over the collapsed section the night before. "I'm sorry this had to happen, but this is a wake-up call."
Larry Gordon of Oakland, was riveted by the scene of scorched steel and hundreds of yards of melted pavement.
"It's incredible, amazing," he said. "If fire can do that a steel structure like this, what can the next earthquake do?"
Henry Geronimo, 44, of West Oakland, watched the cleanup operation from a fence along Mandela Parkway.
"Coming home is going to be a big big problem," said Geronimo, who commutes to work in San Francisco as draftsman. "Do you know how many terrorists are looking at this? They're getting ideas."
Wanda Realegeno, a 42-year-old Richmond resident, said she isn't looking forward to her commute to school near Oakland Coliseum, which normally takes her onto the I-800 connector that the truck was on when it crashed.
"This is amazing," she said. "It's almost as bad as the earthquake. I'm just thinking: how am I going to get to work tomorrow? I was trying to figure out my path."