As Morning Comes, A Bridge 'Is Just Gone' At the scene of the I-35 West bridge collapse in Minneapolis, what you don't see is almost as impressive as what you do see. The bridge "just doesn't exist." On any given day, 140,000 vehicles passed over the bridge
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As Morning Comes, A Bridge 'Is Just Gone'

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As Morning Comes, A Bridge 'Is Just Gone'

As Morning Comes, A Bridge 'Is Just Gone'

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

What strikes you first is the randomness. The bridge between Minneapolis and St. Paul seemed no different than any other bridge. And then, at the height of last night's rush hour, Courtney Jensen was parking near it.

Ms. COURTNEY JENSEN (Witness): And we just heard a loud rumble. And I turned around and I saw the road come down. And I said, oh my gosh, call 911, 35-W just collapsed.

INSKEEP: Now, so far this morning, here's what's known. At least four people are dead. Many more are injured and as many as 30 people are missing. Dozens of cars are still in the water after the bridge collapse, and while authorities do not think terrorism caused this collapse, it leaves them to determine what did.

Let's go now to Minneapolis, to reporter Mark Zdechlik of Minnesota Public Radio. He's near the bridge as he has been for much of the morning. And Mark, what are you seeing now?

MARK ZDECHLIK: Well, a whole contingent of reporters has gathered here. Waiting are two U.S. senators, Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Amy Klobuchar, the Governor Tim Pawlenty, the mayor of Minneapolis, along with the transportation secretary, Mary Peters. They have, to my understanding, been taking an aerial tour of the collapsed bridge and will be coming down and talking to the reporters.

Earlier we heard from rescue officials who made it very clear that today is not a rescue day for them; it is a recovery day, and that they're acting accordingly very differently. They are moving very deliberately and slowly, and began the morning trying to ascertain the status of the wreckage, whether it was safe to send teams of divers in to begin recovering what they say they know to be some bodies. They would not give us a number of how many bodies they know to be trapped in vehicles underneath the wreckage. But they said they had hoped to begin some of that today. And once they started, they thought they'd be working around the clock.

INSKEEP: What did you see as the sun came up today?

ZDECHLIK: Well, I was off in a distance because they're really keeping a pretty wide perimeter and people away from the wreckage. But you can see on either side of the banks, big juts of concrete kind of sticking up with girders, you know, huge girders poking out from them. And then, in the center part of it, it's difficult to see what is there because it is so caved in and basically lying on the river bottom, we're told by the authorities. And for people who are, you know, familiar with the stretch of the river in downtown Minneapolis, it just stands out that something is missing, in some respects more of what you don't see than what you do see.

INSKEEP: This must a bridge that people crossed over all the time without even thinking about it.

ZDECHLIK: Well, I assume so. Some stats that were two or three years old, I believe, said that every day 140,000 vehicles pass this bridge. So most everybody around these parts is familiar with the bridge, and accordingly really paying attention to what's going on right now.

INSKEEP: Now, Mark, I know we're very early here in the investigation. It's certainly too early to talk about what caused this. But what clues are authorities looking at, and what questions are they asking as best as you can determine?

ZDECHLIK: Well, there was work going on the bridge, what was kind of characterized as, you know, routine resurfacing. So of course everybody is wondering, could that have had something to do with it? But the company that was involved in that has made it very clear that what they were doing had nothing to do with structural elements of the bridge. So the big question for everybody is what would cause the structural parts of the bridge just all of a sudden to collapse and cave in?

The governor has been saying that the bridge was inspected in 2006 and in 2005. But now we're getting more information about inspections and then that the governor - those inspections the governor has referenced he says gave the bridge a clean bill of health as far as, you know, the integrity of the structure. We're also hearing other stories, that other inspections indicated that the bridge might need to be replaced down the road, but local transportation officials are saying that doesn't mean it's not safe and adequate at the time that those determinations were made.

So really the focus, now that it appears there are no more survivors, is you know, how did this happen, and then how do we, you know, get the victims and the bodies out?

INSKEEP: Mark, thanks for your work throughout the morning.

ZDECHLIK: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's Mark Zdechlik of Minnesota Public Radio. He's in Minneapolis.

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