Blvd. Bridge explosion draws huge crowd
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By Tim Hrenchir
A controlled explosion generated by 240 pounds of dynamite ripped a page out of Topeka's history Wednesday, leveling a roughly 500-foot section of the Topeka Boulevard Bridge.
Topeka police Lt. Randy Carver said a crowd estimated to contain at least 15,000 people tolerated 100-degree temperatures to turn out to watch the blast.
City of Topeka spokesman David Bevens said flying debris injured two people who were watching east of the bridge: A female Topeka fire department inspector, who was taken by ambulance to a hospital with an injured lower lip, and a teenaged male who declined medical treatment for a cut under his eye.
Bevens said damage was also reported to windows of a storage building just to the west of the bridge, while debris broke a window and put a hole in an interior wall to the east of the bridge in a building housing an insurance company at 400 N.W. Curtis. Both damaged buildings were within a 600-foot area in which the public was asked to leave before the blast, Bevens said.
Pat Carney of Chicago Explosive Services, the company that conducted the blast, said he nevertheless thought it went fairly smoothly.
Carney said the explosion was set for 1 p.m. but didn't take place until 35 minutes later because he asked his workers preparing for the explosion to take more breaks than were previously planned because he didn't want them to dehydrate in the hot weather.
Topeka police cars in their area activated their sirens five minutes before the explosion and again one minute before the blast.
Two explosions occurred within a split second of each other -- one in the center columns of the bridge and the other on the outside columns -- before the bridge fell almost straight to the ground.
Jerry Smith, who was watching to the bridge's east with his 17-year-old daughter, said the bridge went to the ground faster than he'd expected.
"I thought it was pretty cool,” he said.
Carney said his company's next controlled explosion to help bring down the 3,718-foot-long bridge was expected to take place in five to 10 days along a steel portion of the bridge that is directly above the river.