It was the height of evening rush hour on the I-35W bridge and traffic had been moving particularly slowly when the unthinkable happened.
The schoolchildren's bus came perilously close to disaster
Many of the survivors compared the experience to being caught in a disaster movie.
"I could kind of feel the bridge shake a little - it did a little shimmy," Caroline Yankelevich told Minneapolis's Star Tribune newspaper.
"Then the bridge started falling, cars were flying everywhere and I saw the water coming up," said the lucky 29-year-old, who was said to have escaped an earthquake in California more than a decade ago.
"The water was coming up pretty fast, so I rolled the window
down... It seemed like a movie, and it was pretty scary."
She managed to swim to the safety of the shore.
In another car, Kristin West was listening to the radio shortly after 1800 (2305 GMT).
"All I heard was noise," she told the Tribune, adding she felt she was floating when the bridge gave way.
"I just thought I was going under and rolled down my windows real quick so maybe I'd have some escape," she said. "Then it stopped."
She got out of her car but could not go anywhere until she was rescued by boat.
"I don't even think I have a scratch on me," she said.
One school bus carrying 60 children on their way back from a water park ended up in a precarious position on the edge of a collapsed slab of the bridge.
The bus "just fell", said 13-year-old Jeisy Aguiza.
"We were all scared. I opened my eyes and saw rocks. We were all just screaming, everyone," she said.
"We all ran away from the bus. I'm just glad we didn't all fall in the Mississippi."
"I heard a big noise," her seven-year-old brother Ronal said. "I saw little rocks come in the bus."
The bus landed on its wheels on solid ground, and reports say all the children got off safely.
Christine Swift's 10-year-old daughter, Kaleigh, was on the bus and called her mother.
"She was screaming, 'The bridge collapsed!"' Ms Swift told the Associated Press news agency.
Susan from Minneapolis e-mailed the following account to the BBC News website.
"It was horrible to see this bridge collapsing... People [were] climbing into the water to help others get out of their cars, so they would not drown.
"A young man saved 60 kids. As the bus was against the guardrail, he kicked the backdoor of the bus open and started carrying them out one by one. It was a sight to see. Everyone thought the bus was ready to go in the river. He was a life-saver and a hero!"