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The search for victims of last Wednesday's bridge collapse in Minneapolis continued today with divers reentering the murky Mississippi River to feel their way through the submerged cars and debris. The death toll stands at five, with at least eight people reported missing.
NPR's David Schaper is in Minneapolis. He has the latest on the investigation into why the bridge gave way and on how survivors, friends and family of the missing are coping.
DAVID SCHAPER: The National Transportation Safety Board has wrapped up its first phase of the investigation into what caused the Interstate 35-W bridge to collapse into the Mississippi River during the busy evening rush hour Wednesday.
NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker says the NTSB has now authorized the Minnesota Department of Transportation to begin pulling bridge debris out of the river.
Mr. MARK ROSENKER (Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board): We want to make sure we preserve as much of the bridge as evidence for us, clues for us to understand what happened. So as they begin bringing things up, the first thing that's going to happen, the cars are going to get up, then the deck, and then they'll begin raising the superstructure. That is what we're particularly interested in, taking a look at the superstructure, which, in fact, is in the water.
SCHAPER: Investigators also planned to fly around the bridge wreckage in a helicopter equipped with a high-resolution camera, and they've used laser-guided surveying equipment to make an in-depth map of the debris field. Rosenker says investigators are also very interested in reviewing inspection reports from recent years, many of which deemed the bridge structurally deficient.
Mr. ROSENKER: And they will detail some of the issues of where potential fatigue could be and potential corrosion. And we're looking at every one of those reports very carefully, line by line.
SCHAPER: Rosenker says it will take months for the NTSB to compile and process all of the data and complete its investigation. Meanwhile, search and recovery efforts continued in the Mississippi River waters today near the site of the bridge collapse. And Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek says his teams of divers will be getting some expert assistance from the FBI'S Underwater Search and Evidence Recovery Team.
Mr. RICHARD STANEK (Sheriff, Hennepin County, Minneapolis): The FBI's dive team is a forensic dive team. So you know, we have a number of missing individuals. If we locate them, when we locate them, we have to process where they're found. And so they're going to aid us in that effort.
SCHAPER: Stanek says he has also requested the assistance of the U.S. Navy salvage and rescue dive team. He says those divers are specially trained in searching in and around debris and in removing debris.
Mr. STANEK: You know, I call it phase two in my mind. That's what we're moving on to in terms of the water recovery efforts. That would mean that our local resources are exhausted in terms of our diving operations.
SCHAPER: Minneapolis police say they believe there are still eight people who remain missing. And for the friends and family of those eight, it's been an agonizing weekend of waiting.
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SCHAPER: Parishioners gathered for Sunday services this morning at St. Mary's Greek Orthodox Church in Minneapolis and to pray for 46-year-old Christina Sacorafas, one of those still missing. Sacorafas was driving to St. Mary's to teach Greek folk dancing classes Wednesday evening, and she was running late and called her good friend Rena Chengus(ph).
Ms. RENA CHENGUS (Christina's Friend): She was leaving for (unintelligible). She was coming to meet us here. And she called me at 5:56 to tell me that she was caught in traffic on 35-W. I told her to be careful. But she never made it here.
SCHAPER: Tonight, hundreds of people are expected to turn out for an interfaith prayer service and vigil at a downtown Minneapolis church to remember and pray for the victims and their families as the people of Minneapolis continue to try to mourn and heal for last week's deadly bridge collapse.
David Schaper, NPR News, Minneapolis.
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