Mayor: We're 'Bracing Ourselves ... for Tragic Stories' As many as 30 people remain unaccounted for after Wednesday night's collapse of the I-35 West bridge in Minneapolis. Authorities are confirming just four deaths so far. Dozens of cars remain in the waters of the Mississippi River. Mayor R.T. Rybak says the city is "bracing ... for tragic stories."
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Mayor: We're 'Bracing Ourselves ... for Tragic Stories'

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Mayor: We're 'Bracing Ourselves ... for Tragic Stories'

Mayor: We're 'Bracing Ourselves ... for Tragic Stories'

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

One moment Aaron Dahlgren(ph) was among those stuck in traffic in Minneapolis; the next moment, everything changed.

Mr. AARON DAHLGREN (Survivor, Minnesota Bridge Collapse): I felt a rumble, and I saw the bridge just go. The bridge broke right behind my front tire, and my pickup fell down probably around 10 or 15 feet onto the concrete below.

MONTAGNE: Aaron Dahlgren speaking to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. He's among the survivors of yesterday's bridge collapse.

Shortly after sunrise this morning, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak returned to the site of the collapse, and that's where we got him on the phone. Mayor, can you just describe what the feeling is in the city this morning?

Mayor R.T. RYBAK (Democrat-Farmer-Labor, Minneapolis, Minnesota): Well, the feeling is one of, I believe, bracing ourselves for what is about to be a collection of days with a collection of very, very tragic stories. I think it was obviously shock when an incident like this occurs in your city.

And in those early hours, we had to focus rightfully on the tactics to make sure that this wasn't the worst tragedy. And I can't say enough about being credibly heroic work and preparation that's been done by our team. Now we move into the next phase, which will be extremely difficult as we try to really deal with the human tragedy here.

INSKEEP: Did you get any sleep last night?

Mayor RYBAK: I got a little. I think last night, we were in a command center until - I was there at least until about midnight, and then I went over to the family center where the individuals were there. And I think the most difficult part was the individuals who didn't know. And we're retracing the steps that loved ones were trying to determine how likely it was, and they didn't know. And the city is filled people right now who don't know. And I think that's something that's difficult for everyone right now.

INSKEEP: How many cars are believed to be still under the water, under the rubble, unreachable at this moment, anyway?

Mayor RYBAK: I'll be getting an exact count in a little bit as we meet with the tactical team. But we identified in excess of 50 in the water yesterday. And we're going to be getting a more accurate count now. It's difficult to be exact. Unfortunately, we're reviewing all the information and tapes and everything that we can get our hands on, obviously. And clearly, the divers are doing remarkable work. But there are certain things we just don't know at this point.

INSKEEP: And we know that some people actually escaped from those vehicles. But it's a reasonable supposition that some people did not.

Mayor RYBAK: Obviously, yes. That is the case. And, you know, tragically, that there's a link that which you can survive in the water at this point. And that obviously has meant that most people would not have, obviously, at this point.

INSKEEP: Mayor Rybak, what does this mean for the city getting back to work today?

Mayor RYBAK: Well, I don't think a city ever gets over something like this. And I think today will really be something where the city's, as I said, focused not only on the large tragedy here, the scale of which we're not obviously ever been accustomed to, but really down to the personal level. I think Minnesotans are people who open their arms and do everything they can to support people, and that's what you're going to be seeing today.

Last night, we certainly saw that. But I think today is really one about people looking for what they can do to help. And I think often that means doing things collectively as a city and as the state of Minnesota, but I think the real place that you'll see Minnesotans step forward is one by one as they help people make some sense of the tragedy there, and obviously, it's senseless.

INSKEEP: On a purely practical level, are you asking people to stagger their work times, delay their commutes, do anything so the city can operate smoothly?

Mayor RYBAK: We were able to get the word out about some of the issues about how people can and should stagger their work times. From a practical standpoint, we couldn't get a lot of message out on that. As I'm seeing rush hour unfold this morning, people have used their common sense and are doing that. The secretary of transportation and our Senators Klobuchar and Coleman are flying in, and we'll be meeting with them in a little bit to talk about the replacement of the bridge. But in the meantime, all of us are going to have to adjust.

INSKEEP: You've heard from family members still waiting. You've heard from survivors. You've heard from rescuers. Is there any story that stays with you?

Mayor RYBAK: I think the stories that at this point stick most to my mind, sadly, are those who are in that horrible middle ground and people who are trying to sort out where somebody could be. And I think - as I went to that last night, the thing that stuck in my head is that death is extraordinarily difficult to deal with. Uncertainty on some levels is even worse. And that's where my heart is right now.

INSKEEP: Mayor Rybak of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Thank you very much.

Mayor RYBAK: Thanks.

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