A picture of the missing and a timetable to build emerge

  • Article by: Pat Doyle, Matt Mckinney, Paul Levy and Tony Kennedy
  • Star Tribune
  • August 4, 2007 - 11:04 PM

Hours after President Bush visited Minneapolis to view the scene of the Interstate 35W bridge collapse, Minneapolis police on Saturday released an official list of eight people who are still missing. But they cautioned that the number may rise.

The missing were identified as:

• Christine Sacorafas, 45, who was on her way to teach a Greek folk dancing class.

• Greg Jolstad, 45, a construction worker on the bridge.

• Peter Hausmann, 47, a former missionary heading to pick up a friend.

• Somali immigrant Sadiya Sahal, 23, a pregnant nursing student traveling with her 2-year-old daughter, Hanah.

Police also included Richard Chit, Vera Peck and Scott Sathers but offered no information.

Also, the state declared it intends to start work in October on a replacement bridge and complete it by the end of 2008. It's an effort that Bush endorsed.

"We want to get this bridge rebuilt as quick as possible," Bush said during a three-hour visit to Minneapolis that included an aerial view of the bridge, which collapsed Wednesday, killing at least five and perhaps trapping others under water or under bridge debris. But speaking at a lock and dam next to the devastation, Bush said, "I make no promises on the timetable."

However, the state kicked the process into high gear Saturday, asking interested construction firms nationwide to prove by Wednesday that they could do the job, then knuckle down and compete for a contract to design and build the new bridge.

"This schedule is unique for Minnesota, highly unusual. But it's been done elsewhere," said Bob McFarlin, the Minnesota Department of Transportation's assistant to the commissioner for policy and public affairs.

Under the plan, the state will begin removing the bridge for federal investigators to examine as soon as officials have recovered the victims.

"At the same time, we'll be working on 'design-and-build' proposals with potential bidders, and we'd like to award the contract before mid-September," McFarlin said.

"Then it's our hope -- some of this is very fluid -- but it's our hope to begin construction in October and complete it next year," he said.

Car pulled from river

But that won't start until the recovery effort ends. Authorities could not say Saturday when that will happen or what caused the collapse. Divers searched from about 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday.

A car was removed from the river Saturday, the only one for which the driver has not been accounted, said Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek. It was upside down on the riverbed and was removed by a crane on a barge and turned over to police.

Late Saturday, Minneapolis police Capt. Mike Martin said the car was likely driven by one of the people on the list of the missing.

The process has been hard on families of the missing, who are "just waiting for word, any kind of word," said Red Cross spokesman Ted Canova.

As they have every day, hundreds of onlookers tried in vain Saturday to get a good look at the scene but were kept far back by police. The nearby Stone Arch and 10th Street bridges were closed.

Stanek appeared to acknowledge that frustration Saturday. He said officials may change how close people may come "in the very near future."

Investigators said it could take months to determine what caused the collapse. But they said that the bridge's southern superstructure was not the cause. Examining the northern part of the structure will be more difficult, they said.

'The president understands'

Through a daylong drizzle, the devastation was painfully clear to Bush. He said he would press U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters "to listen to the local authorities to find out what the folks here need. I do promise that when she sees roadblocks and hurdles in the way of getting the job done she'll do everything she can to eliminate them."

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who accompanied Bush on the tour, said afterward that the president didn't commit to a specific spending figure but said he would do what it takes to help rebuild the bridge. "We believe the president understands that we need a continued commitment from the government," Rybak said.

During the visit, Bush got a close-up view of the damage and greeted divers, firefighters and family members of some victims.

He arrived on Air Force One at 8:53 a.m. at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and taxied to the Air Force Reserve hangar. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Norm Coleman and Reps. Michele Bachmann, Keith Ellison and John Kline joined him on the trip and were met at the airport by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, his wife, Mary, and Rybak.

In Marine One, the group hovered for several minutes over the collapsed bridge before landing along West River Parkway near the University of Minnesota. The entourage was driven to the bridge scene.

Bush greeted rescuer

At the edge of a collapsed bridge deck, Bush talked for several minutes with Gary Babineau, 24, of Blaine, who said he had been driving his pickup across the bridge when it gave way. Babineau said he described for the president how a school bus was trapped on the broken structure.

"He asked me where my truck was, about the kids on the bus, what I saw of the bridge going down," Babineau said afterward. "I told him about running over to the bus and grabbing all the kids off the bus ... me and other people ... and grabbing kids off the bridge and bringing them down to street level.

"He said, 'Great job.' He's proud how everyone came together," said Babineau, who said he told the president that he's expecting to become a father in 10 days. "The president said he ... is going to write my child a letter when it's born," Babineau said.

Bush said he would push to speed up reconstruction that results in a bridge "that can stand the test of time."

The federal government has pledged $5 million to help remove debris and to reroute traffic. The House and Senate have approved a bill for up to $255 million for a new bridge.

At a news conference after Bush's visit, Pawlenty and Rybak said the president pledged federal reimbursement for extra law enforcement expenses, and help to remove debris and to investigate the cause of the accident. He also offered to seek waivers from some federal permit requirements, they said.

Green light to remove debris

The National Transportation Safety Board on Saturday interviewed members of the construction company that was resurfacing the bridge when it collapsed, NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker said at his third daily briefing since the accident. He also said that officials can begin to remove cars and bridge debris.

Ever since the 40-year-old bridge fell, questions have arisen about whether the bridge work had anything to do with the collapse. Photos at the time show a sand pile, a tanker truck and a concrete mixer on the bridge. Also, workers had been using jackhammers, and a first-responder at the collapse said workers told him the bridge had been wobbling unusually days before.

Investigators have mapped the bridge, Rosenker said, and today they will take high-resolution pictures via helicopter.

State inspections began Friday at three Minnesota bridges with designs similar to the I-35W bridge. Bridges near St. Cloud, Sandstone and Osceola, Wis., received positive grades. Inspections started Saturday on a Sauk Rapids bridge and will begin today on one over the Gooseberry River on the North Shore of Lake Superior.

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