Bridge closure raises issue of our disaster readiness

EVERETT — One little crash. One little bridge.

One big headache.

The closure of northbound Highway 529 between Everett and Marysville on Dec. 3 shut down the city for hours during the evening commute.

Everyone in Everett got stuck there.

Now imagine if there was a natural disaster.

In Snohomish County, a commuter community sliced and diced by rivers, floodplains and sloughs, it doesn’t take much to cut off Point A from Point B.

“This is a really good exercise for what would be magnified significantly after a very large earthquake,” said John Pennington, the county’s top emergency management official.

Seismologists say the Pacific Northwest is ripe for a big quake. The risk also is spelled out in the county’s hazard-mitigation plan. We’d likely lose bridges and see a whole lot of water coming from the east and west.

A lot of the lessons to be learned from the Highway 529 closure fall at the individual level, Pennington said.

People should think about what worked for them and what didn’t when they got stuck, he said. Were they cold, hungry or thirsty? Did they have a way to communicate with their family and their workplace?

In a disaster, people at work during the day could be separated from loved ones, including children, he said. Did they have a plan?

No matter where you’re at, you and your loved ones should have supplies to “hunker down for several days,” he said

“With one little bridge being down impacting our community so strongly, imagine four bridges in our community being down,” Pennington said.

The 85-year-old bridge over the Snohomish River was closed for repairs after a suspected drunken driver slammed into its support beams. The repairs cost an estimated $80,000 and hundreds of man-hours, according to the state Department of Transportation.

The heaviest work is done, department spokeswoman Jamie Holter said Friday. Crews still have some minor tasks left, including fixing curbs.

The driver in the crash could face charges of drunken driving, attempting to elude police, reckless driving and driving with a suspended license.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com

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