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Local Officials Describe Bridge Collapse’s Toll on Minneapolis

A fifth person was confirmed dead after the collapse of a highway bridge in Minneapolis, while authorities lowered the number of missing to eight. The mayor of Minneapolis and the county sheriff describe the effect on the community.

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    The continuing aftermath of the bridge collapse in Minnesota. NewsHour special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro begins our coverage.

  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO, NewsHour Correspondent:

    Recovery efforts continued today in the waters surrounding the grim resting place of the 35W bridge span, amid the unyielding flow of the Mississippi River. The waters, up to 14-feet deep, have been transformed by the tons of steel, concrete and rebar littering the site of the collapse.

    Hennepin county Sheriff Rich Stanek outlined the problems facing recovery dive teams this morning.

  • RICK STANEK, Sheriff, Hennepin County:

    You've got the current. You've got the debris. It creates, as we talked about yesterday, those manmade eddies, or whirlpools. You've got water coming both through here, you've got water coming through the bridge. The divers will be taking extreme caution; we will be slow and methodical during our search operations today.


    Despite the danger, the sheriff's office dive master, Captain Bill Chandler, said this afternoon that the river's level had been lowered and that the recovery operation was proceeding in textbook fashion.

  • CAPT. BILL CHANDLER, Hennepin County Sheriff’s Department:

    We have very good, sophisticated side-scan sonar that has helped us very well to identify objects, of those target objects, when we go in, so we've got a good spot to look. Now, the divers pretty much use a Braille method, as we call it. You're feeling through the muck to try to find it.

    We have underwater communications so the divers are talking back and forth to the surface just like you're on a phone line. And they can talk to each other. We put one diver down at a time, with two divers backing them up. If they get in trouble, they can go rescue them. So then we direct them by watching, actually, their air bubbles on the surface or with the sonar, if it's running, so we can direct them into the object.

    We cannot run the sonar while they're in the water, so we're going strictly off the locations we've put the cars to and then working the bubbles, but they've got to feel their way in, find the object. They have to get up pretty much face-to-face to the license plate. They call that out to us, and then they go around the car and then in the car.


    The recovery operations have so far found no victims in the water today. Today officials said the number of missing — once thought to be as many as 30 — has been reduced to eight. The casualty toll now stands at five confirmed dead and just over 100 injured.

  • Among the dead:

    36-year-old Patrick Holmes, the married father of two young children; 60-year-old Sherry Engebretsen; and 29-year-old Artemio Trinidad-Mena.

    Minnesota's Republican governor, Tim Pawlenty, and his wife hosted First Lady Laura Bush at the site today. The governor later spoke to reporters and promised a thorough state and federal investigation. The bridge had been deemed "structurally deficient" in recent inspections. Nevertheless…

    GOV. TIM PAWLENTY (R), Minnesota: At no point did anybody say, "Close the bridge or replace it immediately." The bridge was actually declared fit for service. And what led up to those decisions and that characterizations in light of this tragedy is now going to have to be critically reviewed.


    Inspections of four nearly identical steel truss bridges in Minnesota will be completed by next week. Pawlenty also said that this bridge, Minnesota's most heavily-traveled, was one of thousands nationwide that are similarly rated.


    There is bridges all across this county, you know, 80,000 in the same designation of this bridge, that are deemed fit for service. And it may be that those designations across the whole country are just out of date or not as aggressive or practical as we need them to be.


    I don't want to leave the impression that we have the answer. What we have is a step forward.


    Late this afternoon, officials provided an update.


    It's the southern end that we're specifically looking at. The reason we're looking at that southern end is because we noticed that the section of this part of the bridge seemed to behave differently. What we believe is whatever created the failure we ultimately saw in its collapse, a 50-foot shift to the eastern part of the structure.


    President Bush will survey the scene and review the recovery operations tomorrow.