MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Fears that an interstate bridge collapse might produce dozens of deaths eased today as authorities said the number of missing, once thought to be as many as 30, was just eight.
At least five people were killed and 79 injured when the Interstate 35W bridge plummeted more than 60 feet into the Mississippi River Wednesday.
Firefighters pulled the fifth victim, the driver of a tractor-trailer rig that was engulfed in flames immediately after the collapse, from the wreckage late Thursday, fire department spokeswoman Kristi Rollwagen said. Video of the fire was among the most compelling images show in the immediate aftermath of the collapse.
The medical examiner’s office was working to confirm the man’s identity, but Rollwagen said firefighters didn’t want the man’s family to see the truck “over and over” on TV knowing he was inside.
More bodies had been spotted in the fast-moving currents, which were “even more treacherous” today than yesterday, Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek said. But the death toll, while expected to grow, was not expected to reach the numbers that the disaster amid bumper-to-bumper, two-lane traffic might have produced.
Fourteen people were still at Hennepin County Medical Center, where most of the victims were taken, with five of them still in critical condition, spokeswoman Kathy Roberts said today.
Crews planned to focus on 13 areas on the upstream side of the collapse, including four vehicles that were partially submerged and had been checked briefly Wednesday or Thursday, he said.
The search efforts were to continue even as authorities reviewed the safety record of the bridge, which had been designated “structurally deficient” as early as 1990.
The eight-lane I-35W bridge, which carried 141,000 vehicles a day, was in the midst of mostly resurfacing repairs when it buckled during the Wednesday evening rush hour.
Dozens of cars plunged into the river, some falling on top of one another. A school bus sat on the angled concrete.
Among the missing is Sadiya Sahal, 23, and her 2-year-old daughter, Hanah Mohamed. Sahal, who is five months pregnant, left home at 5:15 p.m. with the toddler in the back seat. She called her family at 5:30 p.m. saying she was stuck in traffic on the bridge, according to Omar Jamal, a spokesman for the family. That was her last phone call.
“Her husband is destroyed. He’s in shock,” Jamal said.
Officials identified the dead as Sherry Engebretsen, 60, of suburban Shoreview; Julia Blackhawk, 32, of Savage; Patrick Holmes, 36, of Moundsview; and Artemio Trinidad-Mena, 29, of Minneapolis.
Ronald Engebretsen said he and his family were trying to come to grips with his wife’s death. “She’s a great person. She’s a person of great conviction, great integrity, great honesty and great faith in her God,” he said.
Shanna Hanson, a fire captain shown on video searching cars in the water shortly after the collapse, plunged into the water with no gear save a rope around her waist. She downplayed her efforts but described the conditions as extremely hazardous.