MINNEAPOLIS – Divers checked submerged cars in the Mississippi River Thursday for a count of victims still trapped beneath the twisted steel and concrete slabs of a collapsed bridge. As many as 30 people were reported missing as the rescue effort shifted to recovery.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty also ordered an immediate inspection of all bridges in the state with similar designs.
The official death count from Wednesday evening’s collapse stood at four Thursday morning, but Police Chief Tim Dolan said more bodies were in the water. Hospitals officials said 79 others were injured.
“We have a number of vehicles that are underneath big pieces of concrete, and we do know we have some people in those vehicles,” Dolan said, though he said he did not have a number. “We know we do have more casualties at the scene.”
The eight-lane Interstate 35W bridge, a major Minneapolis artery, was in the midst of repairs when the bridge buckled during the evening rush hour Wednesday. Dozens of cars plummeted more than 60 feet into the Mississippi River, some falling on top one of another. A school bus sat on the angled concrete.
In the river, divers were checking for bodies and taking down license plate numbers for authorities to track down the vehicles’ owners. Getting the vehicles out was expected to take several days and involve moving around very large, heavy pieces of bridge.
“The bridge is still shifting,” Dolan said. “We’re dealing with the Mississippi River. We’re dealing with currents. We’re going to have to do it slowly and safely.”