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Search for Missing in Bridge Collapse
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Authorities said they uncovered more bodies yesterday from the wreckage of a US highway bridge that collapsed into the Mississippi River during Wednesday evening's rush hour. So far four people were confirmed dead, 79 were injured and more than 20 people were missing.

The Interstate 35W bridge collapsed at about 6:05 PM local time (23:05 GMT) during Wednesday's rush hour, plunging cars into the river.

Security camera video showed the 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.

Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan said he would not be more specific about the toll on the Interstate 35W bridge. The death toll was almost certain to climb as recovery work continued.

Some of the injured were pulled from half-submerged vehicles and some swam to safety.

Several motorists were critically injured, suffering broken bones, and head, neck and spinal injuries, a hospital emergency room physician said.

A school bus carrying mostly children landed on its tires, and the 59 children and adults on board scrambled out the back exit, bloodied and bruised.

At present, rescuers are continuing their search in the Mississippi River below the bridge among the submerged cars and twisted steel left by the collapse. Their hopes of finding survivors have dimmed.

City fire chief Jim Clack said that emergency work was no longer a rescue operation and had become a recovery operation.

In Washington, US President George W. Bush offered his condolences to victims of the collapse and promised that the federal government would help ensure that the bridge will be rebuilt as quickly as possible.

"We in the federal government must respond, and respond robustly, to help the people there not only recover, but to make sure that lifeline of activity -- that bridge -- gets rebuilt as quickly as possible," Bush told a press conference at the Rose Garden of the White House.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said an inspection two years ago had found structural deficiencies in the bridge, but "this doesn't mean there was a risk of failure."
He said First lady Laura Bush will visit Minneapolis today.

Snow said the Minnesota state has not made a formal request for Bush to issue a disaster declaration, but people are being sent to the scene from a number of federal agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Environment Protection Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Transportation Security Board.

In addition, he said the federal government will give local officials US$5 million to re-route traffic and remove debris.

Meanwhile, Bush sent Transportation Department Secretary Mary Peters to the scene.

"We will take every step possible to make sure something like this will never happen again," Peters told a news conference in Minneapolis of local and federal officials.

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty said in network television interviews the bridge had passed inspections, although it was among thousands of bridges across the country deemed to be "structurally deficient" in a federal government report.

Federal investigators were on their way to probe the cause.

Rybak said it was too early to pinpoint a cause.

(China Daily via agencies, Xinhua News Agency August 3, 2007)

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