I-35 Bridge in Minneapolis Collapses, Sending Cars into River

People could see the damage from another nearby bridge.
People could see the damage from another nearby bridge.
The driver of a school bus narrowly averted disaster.
The driver of a school bus narrowly averted disaster.
The collapse was caught on surveillance tape.
The collapse was caught on surveillance tape.

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Minnesota authorities say dawn will bring the start of recovery efforts, not rescue work, at the site of a collapsed interstate bridge in Minneapolis. They don't expect to find more survivors.

Minneapolis police Lt. Amelia Huffman says the number of confirmed fatalities in the Minneapolis bridge collapse has been lowered to four.  Sections of the bridge tumbled into the Mississippi River during rush hour on Wednesday.  Some people are still unaccounted for.  "Obviously this is a catastrophe of historic proportions," said Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.

Investigators still don't know what caused the bridge to collapse.  The eight-lane interstate bridge was under construction -- with two lanes closed -- when it suddenly snapped and dumped dozens of cars, their passengers, tons of conrcete and twisted metal into the Mississippi River some 60 feet below.

"When it was going down, I thought I was going in the water," said Gary Babano, a survivor.  "It went so fast but we fell for so long.  It was just unbelievable."

The bridge is a part of a major Minneapolis artery -  and when it buckled in bumper-to-bumper traffic became a horrific scene of fire, smoke, frantic rescuers and terrified motorists.  Rescue crews pulled survivors from the wreckage, and scoured the river for cars and their victims.

A school bus packed with children was left teetering on the edge.  All made it out, but some were injured.  "It was like the movies, but it was real life," said one person on the bus.

The steel-arched bridge built in 1967 was about 64 feet above the river and stretched about 1,900 feet. The arch form was chosen to avoid putting piers in the water that might interfere with river navigation.

Governor Tim Pawlenty says the last two inspections by the Minnesota Department of Transportation were in 2005 and 2006.  He says there were only minor details that needed attention.  Another inspection was scheduled this fall.

Kristi Foster says she's never wanted to see her brother so much in her life.  She is among friends and relatives of more than 20 families waiting at an information center set up in a Minneapolis Holiday Inn.  They are hoping for word of missing loved ones after an interstate bridge collapsed during evening rush hour, killing at least seven people.

Foster says she is "overwhelmed with not knowing" where her brother Kirk Foster is.  Foster's girlfriend, Krystle Webb, has not been seen either.

Ian Anderson, a sound engineer at a cafe, has been looking for a co-worker, Alyssa Rocklitz, who never showed up for last night's shift.  He says he can't remember ever not getting through when he called her.  He says "I hope to God it's not this instance."

The Minneapolis bridge catastrophe raises questions about the safety of bridges used by Ohioans.  In Columbus, Franklin County Engineer Dean Ringle says Ohio bridges are inspected each year, and every few years the major ones are checked out underwater.

He tells WBNS-TV Ohio authorities will watch the investigation in Minneapolis to determine whether bridge inspections can be improved.

There have been concerns about the busy Brent Spence Bridge that takes Interstates 71 and 75 over the Ohio River between downtown Cincinnati and northern Kentucky.  It's 44 years old and carries double the number of vehicles it was built for.

Highway engineers say while the bridge is functionally obsolete, its structure is sound.

Posted by AEB

The Associated Press and the CBS Television Network contributed to this report.