Divers Continue Search for Bridge Collapse Victims

Divers will be back in the Mississippi River searching for victims in the grim recovery effort at the collapsed bridge on Interstate-35 in Minneapolis. Early indications are that the collapse started on the bridge's south side, an important clue in determining why the structure failed.

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

The grim recovery effort of the collapsed bridge in Interstate 35 in Minneapolis continues today. Divers will be back in the Mississippi River searching for victims beneath tons of rubble. National Transportation Safety Board officials will also be back on the scene. The NTSB has reported some progress in its investigation. Early indications are that the collapse started on the bridge's south side, which could be a significant clue in determining why the structure failed.

NPR's Jason Beaubien joins us from Minneapolis.

Jason, thanks for being with us this morning.

JASON BEAUBIEN: It's good to be here, Scott.

SIMON: The number of dead stands at five, seven people reported missing, and this is no doubt unimaginably tragic for the victims' families and loved ones. But it's also somewhat remarkable that so many motorists seemed to have survived the collapse. How did that happen?

BEAUBIEN: It really does seem remarkable, particularly when you get up close to the wreckage and you see these huge pieces of concrete that are jutting straight up in the air and at the bottom of them. You've got these little tiny cars that are all dumped in a pile. It's really quite amazing that more people haven't been killed. The death toll certainly could rise.

People are attributing this to the fact that things were going fairly slowly on the bridge. It was bumper-to-bumper traffic. In addition, there was work being done on it. So four of the eight lanes had been shut down. And essentially, the bridge pancaked down and people fell down with it and didn't drop instantaneously 60 feet into the water.

So there was some cushioning that happened with that. But it is quite remarkable that they're still looking for bodies in the water. They searched yesterday. They searched 11 cars. They had found no bodies in those cars. They believed that, overall, there's probably 50 to 60 cars that went into the water, but so far, this death toll is remaining remarkably low.

SIMON: What can you tell us about the NTSB investigation which, of course, we mentioned that the collapse may have started on the south side?

BEAUBIEN: The NTSB got on the scene the day after. They got out there. They're gathering evidence here. They feel like they're moving fairly quickly that things are going well for them. They've got some surveillance tape, which showed the entire collapse as it's occurred. They're also going to take those surveillance tapes and run computer models of them.

And then try to take pieces out of the bridge, out of the original structure in a computerized model and see if they can replicate what they're seeing on the surveillance tapes with taking one piece out. So if you remove the bearing or if you remove a support somewhere and try to find that individual piece that initially failed, which caused this entire bridge to go down.

SIMON: Laura Bush was there yesterday. President Bush will be in Minneapolis today. What's going to go on at the site, Jason?

BEAUBIEN: The divers are going to get back out there today so long as the currents and the weather cooperate. We're expecting some rain here today. It could be a little bit difficult for them. They've had trouble out there because of the water moving around in murky conditions. But they're going to be out there searching. They said they're going to continue the search until all of the cars that they can get to have been checked.

SIMON: NPR's Jason Beaubien in Minneapolis. Thank you.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.

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