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Last Updated: Friday, 3 August 2007, 19:48 GMT 20:48 UK
US seeks answers after bridge fall
By Kim Ghattas
BBC News, Minneapolis

Jeremy Hernandez leaves the scene of the Minneapolis bridge collapse after helping children out of a bus that was on the bridge
Jeremy Hernandez helped save children from a stricken bus
After the initial shock of the collapse of the I-35W highway bridge in the US city of Minneapolis, it is time to ask what happened and why it was not prevented.

The front page of the Star Tribune says it all: "Searching the water, grasping for answers."

The local Minneapolis daily and other newspapers reported on the continuing recovery efforts in the Mississippi river almost two days after the tragic collapse of the 40-year-old, eight-lane bridge.

For the survivors, getting over the horror of what they saw will take some time.

Jeremy Hernandez, 20, a staffer at Whaite House community centre, was on a school bus on the bridge at the time of the collapse with more than 40 children and a few adults returning from an outing at a water park.

He described the harrowing moment when the bridge suddenly buckled and no amount of braking by the driver could stop the slide towards the river 20m below.

It felt like the bus was still moving, it was like the gravity was pulling us [into the water]
Jeremy Hernandez
Student

"It felt like the bus was still moving, it was like the gravity was pulling us [into the water]," said Mr Hernandez.

"The bus was still moving and I didn't want to go into the river. I've been in the river before and I didn't want to go that way."

Luckily, the bus did not fall in the river.

Dangerous conditions

Kaleigh Swift, 10, called her home from the bus and left a distressing, anguished message on the answering machine.

"Momma, the bridge broke when we were crossing it. Everyone is scared and crying," she cried.

"Are you there Momma? Momma, are you there?"

All the children have been reunited with their families, but for other families, the wait continues.

Minneapolis police chief Tim Dolan said the recovery efforts could take up to five days, as the work of the emergency teams is being made very difficult by the dangerous conditions in the water.

The fast-flowing currents of the Mississippi and swirling, murky waters have forced the teams to limit the time they can spend in the river looking for bodies.

The tons of debris from the collapsed bridge - from concrete slabs to steel beams but also wrecked cars - are proving a real hazard for recovery workers.

Divers were only able to recover one body on Thursday, after hours of frustrating search, where they apparently could see other bodies but could not reach them.

Community united

There has been some good news as the number of people missing was revised down from 30 to eight.

The local chapter of the Red Cross had listed 30 people as missing according to phone calls received from worried relatives. The number went down after some families located their relatives in hospitals.

Cars submerged under Mississippi river, Minneapolis

But with no chance of finding survivors in the entombed cars and the possibility that seriously injured victims might die, the death toll is set to rise.

The community has come closer together during this time of grief.

"I feel very proud to witness everybody coming together," said Ryan Murphey, a local resident who was close to the bridge at the time of the collapse and helped rescue two people.

"What they did down there, people were working systematically, it makes me proud."

It has become clear that a lot of lives were saved by the swift response of rescue workers and passers-by.

The surface-repair work that was taking place at the time of the collapse meant that several lanes were closed and the number of cars on the bridge limited.

But there is also anger now here as questions mount about the safety of the bridge and whether the collapse could have been prevented.

Infrastructure revamp

As early as 1990, officials had warned that the bridge had structural problems. Concerns were so severe that state officials considered bolting steel plates to its supports to prevent cracking in fatigued metal.

The collapse has also put the spotlight on America's ageing infrastructure, from bridges to dams, water pipes and power lines.

Last month, an underground steam pipe explosion in New York killed one person and injured dozens. The 83-year-old pipe just gave up and blew up in a geyser in midtown Manhattan.

The American Society of Civil Engineers warned in a report two years ago that between 2000 and 2003, more than 27% of the nation's almost 600,000 bridges were rated as structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

It gave the country's infrastructure in general a failing D grade and called for $1.3 trillion (489.5bn) to be invested in revamping it.

Checks are now being carried out on the bridges across the US with one worrying report from New York - the city's iconic Brooklyn Bridge reportedly failed its last inspection.

The headline in the New York Daily News, read "Brooklyn Bridge - worse than doomed span".

Although city officials insist the bridge is safe, there are bound to be scores of worried commuters.


SEE ALSO
US bridge safety review ordered
03 Aug 07 |  Americas
In pictures: Minneapolis bridge
02 Aug 07 |  In Pictures
Minnesota bridge collapse: Your accounts
02 Aug 07 |  Have Your Say
Shock as Mississippi bridge falls
02 Aug 07 |  Americas
Indian bridge collapse 'kills 33'
08 Sep 05 |  South Asia
Pakistan bridge collapse kills 40
06 Aug 06 |  South Asia

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