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1896 - DUMPED INTO A RIVER. Men Working on a Bridge Engulfed by a Raging Torrent.

Eleven Out of Twenty Reported to Be Drowned.
Carried Down Pequabuck River and Lost In the Darkness.

Bristol, Conn., Feb. 7 - A most appalling disaster occurred here shortly after 9 o'clock last night, in which 20 workmen were precipitated into Pequabuck river from the East Bristol bridge, and 11 of them are probably drowned.

Yesterday afternoon the structure was found to be shaky, and the 4:42 train on the New England road had a narrow escape from wreck as it crossed on the way to Hartford.

For some time the bridge had been looked upon with suspicion, and at the present time a new bridge was in process of erection, and was almost completed. It was close alongside the bridge which was carried away.

The fierce storm which swept over the state played havoc with New England bridges, and the swollen waters of the Pequabuck river threatened to carry the bridge away. At 5 o'clock a special wrecking train with 40 men left East Hartford and were put to work on the new bridge which the company is building over the river, and which is almost completed. It was intended to put the new bridge in shape at once so that trains could cross the river. The old bridge was declared unsafe about 4 o'clock, and since then no trains have crossed the river.

Twenty workmen were put to work on each bridge. About 9 o'clock one of the foremen, John Barry, called the 20 men on the old structure toward the center to assist in tearing up the ties, which were wanted for the other bridge. The weight of the men was too great for the bridge, and without hardly a moment's warning it collapsed. precipitating 16 or 17 of the men into the raging waters of the river. Three or four were caught by falling timbers and seriously injured. Three managed to cling to fragments of the bridge and were rescued by a number of their comrades, who rushed over from the new bridge as soon as they realized the extent of the disaster.

Beyond Reach of Aid.

The tottering condition of the remaining portions of the old bridge rendered the work of reaching the men impossible, and had a boat been available, nothing could have held it against the mad rush of the waters. The unfortunate men in the water attempted to seize sticks and portions of the abutments which had been broken loose, but not more than five or six were successful. The others were carried down stream, and were quickly lost to sight in the darkness.

Two men were able to swim ashore, but fell exhausted as soon as they reached land. John Barry, the foreman in charge of the old bridge, was extricated from the mass of wreckage and debris which collected where the bridge gave way, and was found to have been badly wounded. He and the other rescued men were taken to farmhouses nearby and cared for. The foreman was unable to give the names of the men who were on the bridge with him at the time.

As soon as the railroad officials were notified of the collapse a special train was sent out from East Hartford with two surgeons and another gang of wreckers. A gang of 20 men rigged impromptu rafts and scows, and began a search for the bodies. Others were sent down both sides of the river to see if anyone had been fortunate enough to reach the shore. At a late hour no more bodies were found, and it was the general opinion that the men had no chance of reaching the shore alive.

At midnight 11 persons were still among the missing. All are members of the construction gangs from Hartford and East Hartford, and were residents of those points.

The men were taking up iron rails on the old bridge when the accident happened, and were passing them across to the new structure.

A gang was working on each end, and by some misunderstanding, it is supposed, all of them were called to the center of the structure. Their weight, with the extraordinary rush of the current, is supposed to have directly caused the fall of the bridge.

Pequabuck river empties into Plainville pond, three miles below the bridge where the fatal accident occurred. It is expected that many of the bodies will be found there.

It is expected that the new bridge will be ready for travel in 48 hours. All trains are stalled on the New England road by many washouts west of Plainville.

North Adams Transcript
North Adams, Massachusetts
February 7, 1896

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