Weather hampers US rescue effort

Bush visits site of Wednesday's accident as search for bodies continues.

    Many cars remain submerged under giant concrete slabs in the Mississippi river [GALLO/GETTY]
    The number of dead still stood at five, but authorities credited a rush-hour crawl on Wednesday that gave vehicles little momentum to slide into the river and a bridge design that minimised falling debris with keeping the death toll relatively low.
     

    "We thought we had done all we could. Obviously something went terribly wrong"

    Dan Dorgan, Minnesota bridge engineer

    Officials cast doubt on an earlier estimate that as many as 30 people were missing. They even said it could be as few as eight.
     
    At a site set up by the Red Cross to offer counselling, about 30 friends and family had been seeking news on five missing motorists, and counsellors said they were growing more distressed.
     
    "They've just been waiting for word, any kind of word," Ted Canova, a Red Cross spokesman, said Saturday.
     
    Of the roughly 100 injured in the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge, 28 remain hospitalised and only five were critical.
     
    Diving teams found a single body on Thursday, but were unable to recover other bodies trapped in the debris.
     
    Warnings ignored
     
    Federal officials have said the collapsed bridge was rated "structurally deficient" twice, in 1990 and 2005, and that warnings were ignored by the state, which relied on patchwork fixes instead.
     

    States have been asked to inspect more than
    70,000 bridges across the US [GALLO/GETTY]

    The accident has led to orders by the government to inspect more than 70,000 bridges across the country previously found with a variety of structural defects.

     

    The US congress is working on a $250m federal aid package for the disaster, which occurred during rush hour and injured at least 79 people.

     

    The 1990 inspection cited significant corrosion in the bearings of the collapsed span, a finding which required portions to be repaired or replaced, and inspections every two years.
     
    Subsequently, fatigue cracks and corrosion in the steel around the bridge's joint were repaired but a federal inspection in 2005 still rated the bridge structurally deficient.
     
    'Terribly wrong'
     
    Dan Dorgan, a Minnesota bridge engineer, said: "We thought we had done all we could. Obviously something went terribly wrong."
     
    The collapsed bridge last underwent a full inspection on June 15, 2006, and was not scheduled for replacement until 2020.
     
    Bush has said the federal government would help rebuild the bridge, but made it clear the state government was responsible for fixing the structural deficiencies on the eight-lane bridge.
     
    "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 gets rebuilt as quickly as possible," he said.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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