88 vehicles at collapse site to remain in place

  • Article by: JIM FOTI , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 8, 2007 - 3:40 PM
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Friends and family gathered to bid farewell with balloons to bridge collapse victim Sherry Engebretsen at Incarnation Lutheran Church in Shoreview, Minn.

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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Authorities have mapped 88 vehicles at the scene of the bridge collapse, State Patrol Maj. Mike Asleson said this morning. The vehicle count includes trailers and pieces of construction equipment, and authorities expect the count to go up as the investigation continues.

Minneapolis police Capt. Mike Martin said most of the vehicles will remain in place for some time.

Many vehicles had debris fall on them, he said. “That’s why they’re trapped where they are. And with the crushing forces of the debris, the bridge deck, the superstructure falling on them, these vehicles are not easily recoverable. … Getting to them is going to be a long process.”

He said that, most likely, workers will have to pull the vehicles from the water and take them apart to recover any evidence or remains.

Six submerged vehicles on the upstream side of the site are helping to slow the flow of the river, he said.

A vehicle that was removed from the water Tuesday was getting in the way of divers’ lines. Otherwise, he said, none of the vehicles have been removed.

A few personal effects have been recovered from the scene, such as laptops, purses and clothing. Authorities also removed some needed medical paperwork from one victim’s vehicle, as well as paperwork about the rehab project that was in one of the construction vehicles.

Martin said it’s important that anyone who was on the bridge at the time of the collapse and who has not been formally interviewed to contact the National Transportation Safety Board hotline. Authorities have also been told that there was a kayaker near the bridge at the time of the collapse, and they would like to talk to that person. The NTSB hotline number is 1-866-328-6347.

Meanwhile, the company that was doing work on the bridge rejected a report that one of its workers had noticed unusual swaying of the bridge in the days leading up to the collapse.

Progressive Contractors Inc. had said earlier that it didn't believe any of its work contributed to the bridge failure, but hadn't responded directly to claims of wobbling.

"We have now met with every single worker who was on the bridge when it collapsed," Tom Sloan, vice president of the company's bridge division, said in a statement. "None of them observed or reported any unusual swaying."

The National Transportation Safety Board has said reports of wobbling will be part of its investigation. The agency issued a brief update of its work Wednesday, saying helicopter observations had found several "tensile fractures" in the superstructure on the north side of the bridge, but nothing that appeared to show where the collapse began.

Investigators said they have also found design issues with gusset plates — steel plates that tie steel beams together — but gave no other details.

The new perimeter area around the scene is much smaller than the original and is being secured with fences at least 8 feet high, as well as motion detectors and cameras that allow police monitoring via the city’s wireless network.

Martin said that 16 people have been arrested for crossing or attempting to cross the perimeter, including two people on Tuesday. “You’re not going to get anywhere near it without being arrested,” he said.

--The Associated Press contributed.

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