Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Cars that were traveling on the I-35W bridge when it collapsed have been marked by officials on Thursday in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Cars that were traveling on the I-35W bridge when it collapsed have been marked by officials on Thursday in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Mark Wilson/Getty Images
This is the scene of the collapsed I-35 West bridge over the Mississippi River on Thursday.
This is the scene of the collapsed I-35 West bridge over the Mississippi River on Thursday. Morry Gash
The death toll from the Minneapolis bridge collapse likely will be lower than first feared. Divers continued to search the muddy water for cars and bodies, but the death toll remained at five, and authorities cast doubt on an earlier estimate that as many as 30 people were missing. They even said it could be as few as seven. Twenty-four people remained hospitalized.
Divers gained access Friday to vehicles submerged in the Mississippi River and found no bodies. Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek indicated that one woman who had been listed as missing was found alive.
The new figures are a dramatic revision from early estimates that 20 to 30 people were trapped underwater or beneath bridge debris.
A span of the Interstate 35 West bridge fell into the river during evening rush hour Wednesday, throwing vehicles from the jammed roadway into the water and onto the riverbank.
The head of the National Transportation Safety Board said his team was making good progress. The agency found that the southern edge of the bridge had shifted 50 feet to the east, which could mean that that's where the initial failure occurred.
Meanwhile, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty fought back at critics who have said the bridge was a safety hazard. It had been labeled "structurally deficient" as early as 1990. But Pawlenty said state and federal transportation officials had declared the span "fit for service."
Earlier in the day, Minnesota state bridge engineer Dan Dorgan said federal inspectors found significant corrosion in the bridge's bearings in 1990. A few years later, he said, additional inspections found fatigue cracks. The state did some repairs over the years and stepped up inspections, but no immediate need was found to replace the bridge.
"We thought we had done all we could. ... Obviously, something went terribly wrong," Dorgan said.
On Friday, investigators were using sonar to sift through the muddy water around the wreckage.
"Our operations are focused upriver on the east side of the bridge," Stanek said at a Friday afternoon news conference. He said 20 divers were working in teams of three.
"This morning, divers identified five submerged vehicles [on the east side]. We have cleared four vehicles and no victims were found in any of them," he said.
Four other partially submerged vehicles also were cleared, he said. Another five vehicles have been identified by sonar on the west side of the bridge, where recovery efforts were focused Friday afternoon, he added.
With additional reporting from The Associated Press