CINCINNATI — Tons of concrete and steel covered the southbound lanes of a major artery Tuesday after an overpass collapse during demolition work left one worker dead, a tractor-trailer driver injured and police considering what the potential toll might have been had the accident occurred amid heavy traffic.
The removal of debris from Interstate 75 began Tuesday afternoon and was expected to take 24 to 48 hours. Ohio transportation authorities will then assess the pavement where the section of overpass deck landed Monday night with what a resident described as an earth-shaking thud. The Ohio Department of Transportation said it's difficult to predict how long pavement repairs might take without seeing the damage.
Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell said casualties could have been much higher had the accident occurred at a busy time on the interstate that carries more than 178,000 vehicles a day through the area some 5 miles north of the Ohio River.
Authorities identified the worker who was killed as Brandon William Carl, 35, of Augusta, Kentucky. The Hamilton County coroner's office will do an autopsy to determine cause of death; Cincinnati fire officials said the body was recovered from rubble with the help of air bags and special equipment early Tuesday morning, about four hours after the accident.
The name of the tractor-trailer driver wasn't released immediately. He was taken to a hospital with what were described as minor injuries. His truck slammed into the overpass as the debris landed.
"In a matter of seconds his fate would have probably been different," Blackwell said.
Transportation officials said heavy equipment was being used to separate the concrete deck from structural steel when the span fell. Gary Middleton, acting deputy director of the Ohio transportation department's southwest Ohio district, said it was a "routine operation" being carried out by a major contractor.
Westerville, Ohio-based Kokosing Construction was doing the demolition under a nearly $91 million contract for a three-year project meant to improve traffic capacity and safety in a busy stretch of I-75. The company had a good safety track record, federal regulators said.
The cause of the accident is under investigation.
"I would say there any number of possibilities," Middleton said.
The overpass once carried a ramp that had been a left-hand exit from northbound I-75 and carried traffic over the southbound lanes to Hopple Street. It was replaced by a new ramp that exits to the right from northbound 75 near the University of Cincinnati.
Middleton said Kokosing is a "very safety-conscious" contractor with high ratings.
The company didn't immediately respond to messages left Tuesday.
The firm is responsible for debris cleanup and could be assessed damages for forcing lane closures and other work, Middleton said. Kokosing also could face fines and other disciplinary action by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which was investigating the work-related death.
Suburban commuters headed downtown were diverted to Interstate 71 south, where traffic slowed Tuesday morning. Motorists headed to Kentucky could take the Interstate 275 loop around the city. Southbound side streets also were congested.
The construction project had been scheduled for completion in June 2016. Planned northbound I-75 closures for work Tuesday night were postponed.
A nearby resident said the collapse rattled his house.
"Just heard a thud, and the house shook," Casey Wright told WLWT-TV. "It felt like an earthquake. I'm sure the whole neighborhood felt it."
Associated Press writers Andrew Welsh-Huggins and Ann Sanner in Columbus and Lisa Cornwell in Cincinnati contributed. Contact Dan Sewell at http://www.twitter.com/dansewell