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Rescuers Continue to Search Site of Minneapolis Bridge Collapse

  • VOA News

President Bush has sent a message of sympathy and solidarity on behalf of all Americans to victims of this week's highway bridge disaster in the city of Minneapolis.

First Lady Laura Bush visited rescue workers Friday, and the president is traveling Saturday to the scene of the bridge collapse in the northern state of Minnesota.

Mr. Bush, speaking in his weekly radio address to the nation, said the bridge collapse "shocked and saddened" millions of Americans. So far, however, the casualty toll has been lower than originally expected -- five known dead and eight other people missing as of late Friday.

Five submerged vehicles were recovered Friday, but all were empty had no occupants.

Divers searching beneath hundreds of tons of concrete and steel that plunged into the Mississippi River fought strong currents and poor visibility Friday. Although the number of people missing has declined sharply (from 30 to eight), local authorities at the Hennepin County sheriff's office say their casualty estimate is not final.

Hospitals treated nearly 80 people injured when the river span, crowded with traffic during the evening rush hour, broke apart and fell 20 meters into the Mississippi on Wednesday.

Federal transportation officials have pledged five million dollars to the state of Minnesota for cleanup and recovery efforts.

The eight-lane bridge was built in 1967. State transportation officials were warned as early as 1990 that the bridge was "structurally deficient" and in need of major repair or even replacement.

Federal inspectors gave the same forecast in 2005, but state engineers say the span was not slated for replacement until 2020. Until then, Minnesota's plan was to inspect the bridge more frequently. Another structural examination by the state last year discovered numerous deficiencies, but no major repairs had been scheduled.

The National Transportation Safety Board has sent a team of investigators to probe the disaster. Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty says the state also will conduct its own investigation.

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