A section of I-35W in downtown Minneapolis collapsed and fell into the Mississippi river during rush hour today. Me and mine are all OK.

I got my first word about this on Twitter. Turning on the TV, I was treated to images of flaming trucks, piles of concrete, rebar poking out of the water. Not the most soothing images to come home to at the end of a long day. Hearing newscasters talk about bumper-to-bumper traffic, buses full of schoolchildren, and how this was totally NOT a terrorist attack — like thanks, I hadn’t even thought of that yet — I started wigging the hell out. It didn’t help that announcers were warning people to stay off their phones for fear of overloading the cell grid.

What else could I do? If I couldn’t make use of the normal communication networks, I’d have to make do with the online social variety. I IMed and SMSed to make sure my friends were accounted for. I kept checking my Twitter feed, and reached out along the network to find other Minneapolitans who were tracking the events. I kept reloading the postings on MNSpeak and Metroblogging Minneapolis to see their comments lists grow with check-ins and roll calls. I saw photos cropping up on Flickr, and groups cropping up on Facebook.

Maybe it was all just empty pointing and clicking to keep my mind from dwelling on the fact that a whole bridge just up and dropped into the water — seriously, that is omgjeezus freaky. If all I had were the reports on the TV and radio, I might have felt like the entire city was being sucked in along with the bridge. As it was, all the multifaceted reports and “I’m OK” messages and good wishes helped to settle my nerves, to remind me that most of us were, in fact, OK, and here, and caring all at once about the same things.

Sometimes the real world crumbles and falls apart, and we need the virtual world to help us keep our shit together.