Bridge Efforts Shift from Rescue to Recovery After the collapse of the I-35 West bridge Wednesday, authorities are now focused on accounting for missing people and recovering the bodies of victims. The destruction of this key highway left commuter traffic snarled Thursday morning in the Minneapolis area.
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Bridge Efforts Shift from Rescue to Recovery

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Bridge Efforts Shift from Rescue to Recovery

Bridge Efforts Shift from Rescue to Recovery

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ALEX COHEN, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Cohen.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, one man's gripping story of fear and survival on that Minnesota bridge.

COHEN: First, we go to NPR's Jason Beaubien. He is reporting from the site of the collapsed bridge. Hi, Jason.

JASON BEAUBIEN: Hi.

COHEN: Jason, can you tell us, what does the site look like right now?

BEAUBIEN: Well, things have obviously calmed down from yesterday. But it's still really a macabre scene here. It sort of looks like a children's toy car set that got stomped by an angry 2-year-old. You've got pieces of concrete sticking straight up in the air. You got bits of rebar poking out of what used to be a roadway. You've got crumpled concrete.

At the north side of the bridge, away from the downtown Minneapolis, there's one point where the road just sort of turned into a ramp. And all of these cars are piled in a big heap, just twisted together at the bottom of that - what used to be a road and now is just a ramp leading back down into the actual land as opposed to into the river.

And some of the cars, their wheels are facing straight up in the air. And in addition to that, officials are telling us that this is an extremely dangerous site because much of it is in the Mississippi River, and that's shifting as the water moves further downstream.

COHEN: And they're saying this is no longer a rescue mission. They're calling it a recovery mission.

BEAUBIEN: That's right. They no longer expect to pull anyone out of this alive. But they did describe that what happened yesterday and the scenes with rescue workers - the chief of police, Chief Dolan, talked about some of his members being out there with people who were pinned in cars, who were telling the officers to give messages to people, people who were not going to be saved, before they died.

And now at this point they're still attempting to recover some of those bodies - some of the bodies that are on land. They still don't know whether there are some bodies that are still in the water. They've had divers going into the water and checking license plates. And then they're trying to transfer that into actual records and contact those people to try to make sure that those people are actually out and safe. So they're trying to account for some of the people by divers checking license plates underwater.

COHEN: Jason, officials are also saying that they are treating this as a crime scene. Why is that?

BEAUBIEN: They're treating it as a crime scene because they want to preserve all of the evidence that's there until they know exactly what caused this bridge to collapse. So they're trying to gather bits of the actual structure. The head - the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, Mark Rosenker, is here. He is saying that right now this investigation is beginning. They're looking into the engineering. They're looking into the materials.

But he's saying first they need to recover the pieces. And they don't want any of that disturbed because they want to be able to find out why this bridge fell in at the middle of - at the very end of rush hour, and to make sure it doesn't happen again.

COHEN: Jason, this bridge is a major artery through town. What's the traffic like today, briefly?

BEAUBIEN: Traffic was definitely snarled. This is a major eight-lane road that goes right into the heart of Minneapolis. It also cut off a railroad. It also is blocking barge traffic as well as commuters. But in town police were on the streets. They were redirecting traffic onto other bridges. Things were certainly moving slowly. And this is one of the big challenges that Minneapolis has to deal with at this point, is that they need to get their transportation structure back up and running without this major artery.

COHEN: NPR's Jason Beaubien in Minneapolis. Thank you so much.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.

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