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Bridge Collapse

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MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota (CNN) -- As many as 50 vehicles are trapped in the rubble of an interstate bridge collapse, and officials said Thursday it could take five days or longer to search the wreckage.

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Vehicles are scattered along the broken remains of the Interstate 35W bridge.

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Four people were confirmed dead, and officials said at least 79 people were injured when the Interstate 35W bridge over the Mississippi River collapsed during the Wednesday evening rush-hour in Minneapolis.

Twenty to 30 people were missing, Minneapolis police Chief Tim Dolan said Thursday. Thirty to 50 cars remain in the river, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

The water below the collapsed bridge is about 7 to 8 feet deep -- just covering the roofs of the dozens of cars that remain in the water, Dolan said.

The eight-lane bridge fell 60 feet, about six stories, into the river.

"This is going to take a long time, this recovery," Dolan said.

Hennepin County Sheriff Richard Stanek said conditions in the Mississippi River were treacherous, as the twisted steel and blocks of pavement were pushed around by river currents. He said the search could go on for five days or longer.

The Hennepin County medical examiner on Thursday morning said the confirmed death toll was four, lower than the seven to nine deaths reported earlier.

But Dolan said there were more bodies to be recovered.

"We have a number of vehicles that are underneath big pieces of concrete, and we do know we have some people in those vehicles," The Associated Press quoted Dolan as saying. "We know we do have more casualties at the scene."

President Bush on Thursday pledged federal aid to rebuild the bridge.

Security camera video showed the Interstate 35W bridge's center section collapsing into the river in less than four seconds. The northern end of the span appeared to drop first and the southern end followed.

CNN obtained the video from a source who asked to remain unidentified because they were not authorized to distribute it publicly. Video Watch bridge collapse video ?

Gary Babineau was driving his truck across the bridge as it fell.

"I could see the whole bridge as it was going down and as I was falling, and it just gave a rumble real quick, and it all just gave way, and it just fell completely all the way to the ground," Babineau said. Photo See photos of the disaster ?

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"This particular section or freeway was under repair," Minneapolis fire Chief Jim Clack said. "We don't know yet what caused the collapse. We do not believe at this point there was any terrorism or nefarious activity -- it was just a structural collapse."

A federal investigative team has been dispatched to the scene.

A school bus filled with more than 50 children who were returning from a summer field trip was among the vehicles on the bridge when it collapsed.

Kristy Jenkins credits staff member Jeremy Hernandez with saving her 12-year-old daughter, Nina Jenkins.

Hernandez "busted open the backdoor of the bus" and "told everyone to get out from the back of the door," the girl said. "We jumped on the highway and then jumped on the sidewalk."

"If it would have been a second later, any second before we would have been in the water or under the pavement," he said.

Tony Wagner, the president of a local nonprofit social services group that organized the trip, said eight of the kids, ages 5 to 14, were hospitalized.

More Information

How you can help: American Red Cross

Mark Lacroix, who lives on the 20th floor of an apartment building near the bridge, told CNN he saw the last seconds of the collapse.

"I heard this massive rumbling and shaking ... and looked out my window," Lacroix said. "It just fell right into the river." Video Watch Lacroix describe the collapse ?

According to the Minneapolis Riverfront District Web site, the steel arch bridge was opened in 1967. Its longest span stretches 458 feet over the river, and it was constructed with no mid-river piers to facilitate river traffic.

The bridge was undergoing nonstructural re-decking work, U.S. Transportation Department spokesman Brian Turmail said.

There were eight construction workers on the bridge at the time of the collapse, and one of them is unaccounted for, said Mike McGray, president of Progressive Contractors, the company doing the repair work on the bridge.

A 2001 study conducted by the Minnesota Department of Transportation found "several fatigue problems" in the bridge's approach spans and "poor fatigue details" on the main truss.

The study suggested that the design of bridge's main truss could cause a collapse if one of two support planes were to become cracked, although it allowed that a collapse might not occur in that event. But, the study concluded, "fatigue cracking of the deck truss is not likely" and "replacement of the bridge ... may be deferred."

Two years ago, the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Bridge Inventory database said the bridge was "structurally deficient."

The Minneapolis Star Tribune quoted Jeanne Aamodt, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, as saying the department was aware of the 2005 assessment of the bridge.

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The bridge received a rating of 4 on a scale of 1 to 10. A bridge receives a rating of 4 when there is "advanced section loss, deterioration."

About 100,000 cars a day travel over the bridge, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Information found on http://edition.cnn.com/2007/US/08/02/bridg...ref=mpstoryview August 2, 2007.

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While it's true that the bridge may have had some structural faults, I wonder why no consideration has been given to the work crew doing work at the time of the tragedy. Someone was operating a jackhammer.

It's an old rule that you never, never do something that makes a staccto rhythm on a bridge. In the military, we were never allowed to march in cadence over a bridge, but were given the command, "Route step," which means walking in a natural way across a bridge. The vibrations from simply marching can set up failure of the rivets. [Confused]

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