Sun, Aug 05, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Bush to visit site of bridge collapse; recovery continues

AFP , MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA

US President George W. Bush yesterday was to tour the highway bridge that crumbled into the Mississippi River as divers plunge back into murky waters in search of bodies.

While the list of missing people continues to shrink, efforts to recover those trapped in the wreckage are moving slowly.

Swimming almost blindly through the submerged wreckage of fractured roadbed, twisted bridge supports and mangled vehicles, divers faced fierce currents and chunks of floating debris as they spotted several bodies underwater but were unable to retrieve any of them.

But officials offered more hopeful news when they announced that only eight people were considered missing in the tragedy, besides the five already confirmed dead.

That was a sharp downward revision from the 20 to 30 whom officials had earlier believed went missing when the eight-lane span fractured and plunged into the river below at the height of rush hour on Wednesday.

"Those eight people -- and it's a very fluid number -- I hope they're just mistakes, that they're vacationing or something," said Hennepin County Sheriff Richard Stanek, who was leading the underwater recovery efforts.

No bodies have been pulled from the water since rescue operations were called off on Wednesday night about four hours after the eight-lane bridge collapsed during the height of rush hour.

The body of one man was extracted on Thursday night from a truck that burst into flames on the pieces of the bridge that was partially submerged, bringing the official death toll to five. Around 80 people were injured.

"There's no sense of frustration. If I had my way I wouldn't find anyone in the water," Stanek said about the divers not having retrieved any more bodies.

Earlier he called river conditions on the second full day of recovery efforts "even more treacherous than yesterday."

Investigators will use a three-dimensional laser imaging device to map out the scene of the accident, a process that will take several days. Then they will begin creating complex computer simulations of potential collapse scenarios.

US first lady Laura Bush visited the accident site early on Friday, while on a previously scheduled trip to Minneapolis for a youth conference.

"The destruction is unbelievable," Bush said as she viewed the scene.

She met with disaster relief workers, and in a speech later lauded people who helped in the rescue.

"Over the last 43 hours, the whole country has seen the strength of the Minneapolis-Saint Paul community, and because we have seen that strength, we all are confident that the bridge will be rebuilt and that your city will heal," she said at the scene of the collapsed bridge.

Recovery efforts were expected to take days because of the treacherous conditions.

The US Congress authorized US$250 million in emergency funding late on Friday to help deal with the fallout from the disaster.

The missing included a pregnant woman and her infant, and a van with four Somali immigrants, local media reported.

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