(Updates with transportation commissioner comments on needed
repairs, state storage site where fire broke out)
By Rich McKay
ATLANTA, March 31 Georgia officials inspecting
the fiery collapse of a major interstate highway bridge in
Atlanta said on Friday the repair timetable was unclear but
expect a "time-consuming event."
No casualties were reported after the span gave way on
Thursday night as a fire raged beneath it, sending plumes of
black smoke into the air and briefly setting off a fireball
before the structure fell in on itself, snarling traffic.
State Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry said on
Friday that inspectors determined the southbound sections of
Interstate 85 were so fire-damaged that they will need to be
replaced. The state also plans to replace the collapsed section
of the northbound bridge and possibly other adjacent sections,
he said in a statement.
"At this time, we do not have an anticipated duration for
the repairs ... but we do know that it is expected to be a
time-consuming event," McMurry said.
As the fire raged on Thursday, the black smoke was so thick
by the bridge in the heart of Atlanta that area residents told
local reporters they thought a storm was coming or that the sun
had set early when the fire started at around 6 p.m. EDT.
Flames shot up several stories from under the bridge before
a section collapsed around 7:30 p.m., even as dozens of
firefighters fought it, causing a brief fireball.
Hours after the collapse, drivers were still struggling to
get off the highway. Republican Georgia Governor Nathan Deal
declared a state of emergency for Fulton County, which
encompasses much of the Atlanta area.
Government offices in Atlanta set a delayed opening for 10
a.m. on Friday to give people extra time to get to work.
Deal said the fire that led to the highway collapse appeared
to have been fueled by a large pile of PVC piping under the
The piping was being held in a state storage site for
construction materials, said McMurry. The site is "a secured
area" and PVC piping "is a stable, non-combustible material,"
(Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York and Dan
Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Dan Whitcomb and Sharon
Bernstein; Editing by Bill Rigby and Jeffrey Benkoe)