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Winds wipe out rusting landmark

Associated Press
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 23, 2003

PITTSBURGH - Thunderstorms wrecked part of a historic steel railroad bridge that was once the world's highest and longest, knocked out power to thousands of customers across three states and damaged homes.

One boy drowned in Ohio.

Wind gusted up to 80 mph and funnel clouds were reported as the storms blew out of the Ohio Valley across Pennsylvania into New York from Monday into Tuesday morning.

Elsewhere, a storm damaged dozens of buildings Tuesday in Memphis, and thousands of customers lost electrical service, said Clinton Buchanan, Shelby County's emergency management director. One person was killed by a falling tree, he said.

Near Mount Jewett, in northwest Pennsylvania, a long section of the 121-year-old Kinzua Viaduct collapsed during the storms Monday afternoon.

"Essentially the middle part of the bridge is gone," said Gretchen Leslie, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Conservation and National Resources.

Crews reported that as many as 12 of the 20 tall towers that carried the half-mile-long bridge across a valley had fallen.

The span, made of iron in 1882 and rebuilt using steel in 1900, stood 301 feet high, almost as tall as the Statue of Liberty. It is on the National Register of Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks and National Register of Historic Places.

Last used by freight trains in 1959, it was closed to tourist excursion trains and pedestrians last summer because state officials feared that strong wind could collapse the rusting structure. Crews had started work in February to refurbish it.

"The storm did it in. I have lost one of my best friends," said Dick Robertson, 76, a director of the McKean County Historical Society.

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