Bush Surveys Bridge; Debris Suspends Search President Bush visited the scene of the Minneapolis Interstate 35 bridge on Saturday. Divers were forced to suspend their search for bodies because shifting debris made the waters of the Mississippi River too dangerous.
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Bush Surveys Bridge; Debris Suspends Search

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Bush Surveys Bridge; Debris Suspends Search

Bush Surveys Bridge; Debris Suspends Search

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jacki Lyden. Debbie Elliott is away.

Today, divers in Minnesota continued their search of the Mississippi River for victims of this week's bridge collapse but found no more bodies. As President Bush visited the site to offer words of support, the official death toll remained at five. Authorities believed there may be eight or more people still missing.

As the investigation into what caused Interstate 35W to collapse Wednesday, Minnesotans are raising more questions about what their state government did over recent years to monitor and repair structural problems with the bridge.

NPR's David Schaper reports from Minneapolis.

DAVID SCHAPER: The search-and-recovery operation has been slow and methodical. Divers are battling swirling underwater currents and tons of steel and concrete debris as they feel their way into submerged cars in the grim search for remains.

The Hennepin County Sheriff's Office says divers often have to be pulled out from the water so crews can remove chunks of debris that get in their way. Sheriff Rich Stanek says moving and shifting debris remains a dangerous obstacle.

Sheriff RICH STANEK (Hennepin County): You can hear bridge structure wavering, moving, creaking; it's not a pleasant sound, and you know, the divers certainly take notice of that.

SCHAPER: One thing helping the divers is the drought here, meaning, the Mississippi's water level is much lower than normal. Also, the steel-arch-truss design of the bridge helped reduce the number of fatalities. Structural engineers say the steel that supports the bridge was all underneath the bridge instead of above it as in more traditional bridge designs.

That, engineers say, kept steel from falling down and crushing cars. Meantime, President Bush visited the site of the bridge collapsed today and met with families of victims.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: On behalf of the citizens of America, I bring prayers and - from the American people to those who have suffered loss of life.

SCHAPER: The president also met with first responders and some of the heroic citizens who took immediate action to rescue those who plunged down with the bridge. And President Bush pledged federal funding to rebuild the bridge.

Pres. BUSH: People count on this bridge and this highway system to get to work.

SCHAPER: Minnesota's Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty and his state Department of Transportation remain on the defensive today over reports the bridge was deemed structurally deficient years ago but that over the years, repairs were piecemeal.

State transportation officials acknowledge that last year an outside consultant recommended inexpensive fix, steel plating to reinforce areas that had cracked and fractured. But they denied that a lack of funding led them to decide not to do that.

For his part, Pawlenty says experts he relied on assured the bridge was safe.

Governor TIM PAWLENTY (Republican, Minnesota): That this bridge was fit for service and we now know it wasn't it. So now we have to ask the tough questions and get the answers as to what went wrong.

SCHAPER: Pawlenty says investigators will get to the bottom of what caused the bridge to collapse and urges that they be given the time to do just that before rushing to judgment.

But around Minneapolis, anger is growing that this is something that should never have happened. Starting with Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Ryback.

Mayor R.T. RYBACK (Democrat, Minneapolis): Beneath the surface is an ongoing outrage that mayors and I around the country have been calling attention to infrastructure and to see this collapse is an outrage.

SCHAPER: But others caution it is too soon to begin to assign blame. They say right now Minnesotans still need time to grieve and to heal.

David Schaper, NPR News, Minneapolis.

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