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Recovery efforts underway
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Divers checked submerged cars in the Mississippi River today for victims still trapped beneath the twisted steel and concrete slabs of a collapsed bridge. As many as 30 people were reported missing as the rescue effort shifted to recovery.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty also ordered an immediate inspection of all bridges in the state with similar designs. The official death count from Wednesday evening’s collapse stood at four, but Police Chief Tim Dolan said more bodies were in the water. Hospitals officials said 79 others were injured.
“We have a number of vehicles that are underneath big pieces of concrete, and we do know we have some people in those vehicles,” Dolan said, though he said he did not have a number. “We know we do have more casualties at the scene.”
The eight-lane Interstate 35W bridge, a major Minneapolis artery, was in the midst of repairs when the bridge buckled during the evening rush hour Wednesday. Dozens of cars plummeted more than 60 feet into the Mississippi River, some falling on top one of another. A school bus sat on the angled concrete. The bridge was crowded with traffic, and a train had been passing beneath the roadway at the time it fell.
In the river, divers were checking for bodies and taking down license plate numbers for authorities to track down the vehicles’ owners. Getting the vehicles out was expected to take several days and involve moving around very large, heavy pieces of bridge.
Police estimate that 20 to 30 people were unaccounted for, though Dolan stressed that it was just an estimate.
At Hennepin County Medical Center, patients arrived in a steady stream after the collapse, some unconscious or moaning, some barely breathing, others with serious head and back injuries, Dr. William Heegaard said.
“There was blood everywhere,” he said.
Relatives who couldn’t find their loved ones at hospitals gathered in a hotel ballroom this morning for any news, hoping for the best.
Ronald Engebretsen, 57, was searching for his wife, Sherry. His daughter last heard from her when she left work in downtown Minneapolis Wednesday. Her cell phone has picked up with voice mail ever since.
“We are left with the hope that there is a Jane Doe in a hospital somewhere that’s her,” Engebretsen said.
As many as 50 vehicles tumbled into the river when the bridge collapsed, leaving those who could escape to scramble to shore. Some survivors carried the injured up the riverbank, while emergency workers tended to others on the ground and some jumped into the water to look for survivors. Fire and black smoke rose from the wreckage.
“People who were pinned or partly crushed told emergency workers to say ‘hello’ or say ‘goodbye’ to their loved ones,” Dolan said.
The Homeland Security Department said the collapse did not appear to be terrorism-related, but the cause was still unknown.
The first step of the federal investigation will be to recover pieces of the bridge and reassemble them, kind of like a jigsaw puzzle, to try and determine what happened, NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker said.
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