Divers at bridge collapse site end fruitless day of searching

No bodies are found

8 believed to remain trapped in wreckage

August 05, 2007|By Erika Hayasaki and Garrett Therolf | Erika Hayasaki and Garrett Therolf,Los Angeles Times

MINNEAPOLIS -- Divers scoured treacherous waters yesterday searching for victims of a deadly bridge collapse, stopping for a brief period when a rainstorm sent twisted metal, glass and debris whirling dangerously in the Mississippi River.

Police released an official list yesterday of eight people missing, matching estimates that had been lowered from the hours immediately after the Interstate 35W bridge collapse Wednesday evening.

In releasing the list, police cautioned that the number could still rise, saying it's possible that some victims have not been reported missing.

Time ticked by slowly for frustrated families who waited for a fourth day to learn news about relatives they had not heard from since the bridge buckled, killing five people and injuring nearly 100 others.

In Rosemount, 20 miles from downtown Minneapolis, friends stopped by to comfort relatives and pray for Peter Hausmann, 47, a former missionary.

"We're still waiting," said Hausmann's 16-year-old daughter, Justine. "We don't know anything." Her father last spoke to her mother, Helen, at 6:05 p.m. Wednesday, when his cell phone cut off.

Since the collapse, divers have navigated cloudy waters, unable to see what lurked ahead of them. They swam against powerful currents and pried open doors of sunken cars. One diver got tangled in a vehicle yesterday and needed help getting free. Still, they have found no bodies since late Thursday.

Authorities said they had been unable to check at least one car lying beneath another vehicle on the river bottom. They planned to return to work today with sonar equipment to scan areas upriver and downriver.

A detailed examination of the wreckage around the southern end of the bridge led investigators to conclude "that is probably not where the event began," said Mark Rosenker, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. The southern end shifted 81 feet during the collapse.

As a result, he said, investigators will use a helicopter mounted with a high-resolution camera to look for points where the metal was cut, sheared or pulled on the northern end.

President Bush took a helicopter tour of the damage yesterday morning and then went to the scene to speak with a construction worker who helped rescue children.

After walking around the site, Bush went to a makeshift command post where he spoke with the families of two victims, as well as first responders and rescue workers.

Bush pledged assistance in rebuilding the bridge, adding that the federal government will work with state and local offices "to cut through that paperwork, and to see if we can't get this bridge rebuilt in a way that not only expedites the flow of traffic, but in a way that can stand the test of time."

Gov. Tim Pawlenty has decided he is willing to back off his opposition to a state gas tax increase to help pay for reconstruction costs, according to his spokesman, Brian McClung.

Late yesterday, the U.S. House approved $250 million in funds to help repair the bridge; the Senate had approved the amount Friday. Congress still would have to appropriate the money in future legislation.

Erika Hayasaki and Garrett Therolf write for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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