Death Toll Dips to 4 in Bridge Collapse

The Associated Press
Thursday, August 2, 2007; 8:34 AM

MINNEAPOLIS -- Authorities lowered the death toll from an interstate bridge collapse to four Thursday, but warned the final number could change as divers comb the twisted steel and chunks of concrete that crashed into the Mississippi River.

Police Lt. Amelia Huffman said: "This morning, the medical examiner's office only has four sets of remains." Initial reports of seven people killed were based on the best estimates authorities had Wednesday night, she said.

The eight-lane Interstate 35W bridge, a major Minneapolis artery, was in the midst of being repaired and two lanes in each direction were closed when the bridge buckled during evening rush hour Wednesday.

Crews planned to resume their cleanup and recovery work Thursday morning. Fire Chief Jim Clack said officials didn't expect to find any more survivors.

More than 20 families gathered in a hotel ballroom early Thursday, waiting for word on loved ones who couldn't be located.

"I've never wanted to see my brother so much in my life," said Kristi Foster, who went to an information center set up at a Holiday Inn looking for her brother Kirk. She hadn't had contact with her brother or his girlfriend, Krystle Webb, since the previous night.

More than 60 people were injured and as many as 50 vehicles were in the river, many of their occupants having scrambled to shore. The collapse did not appear to be terrorism-related.

Some injured people were carried 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.

Minneapolis Fire Chief Jim Clack said the death toll could rise. "We think there are several more vehicles in the river we can't see yet," he said Wednesday.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty said the bridge was inspected by the Minnesota Department of Transportation in 2005 and 2006 and that no immediate structural problems were noted. "There were some minor things that needed attention," he said.

"They notified us from an engineering standpoint the deck might need to be rehabilitated or replaced in 2020 or beyond," Pawlenty said Wednesday.

The 40-year-old bridge was rated as "structurally deficient" two years ago and possibly in need of replacement, the Star Tribune reported. The newspaper said that rating was contained in the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Bridge Inventory database.

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