President Bush made an obviously impromptu appearance just now to make a statement about the bridge collapse. He promised a "robust" federal response, not just in the recovery and investigation, but also in rebuilding the bridge. He didn't spend much time talking about details, other than to say that the Secretary of Transportation has flown to Minneapolis to ensure the best possible coordination with state officials already on the ground.
This shouldn't require a huge effort in those regards. This hardly compares to Hurricane Katrina, after all. It's a localized and comparatively small tragedy. It won't require FEMA, but it will require the resources of the NTSB for the investigation, and that has to be coordinated now.
Bush's statement did emphasize one point that has understandably been missed while we focus on rescue and recovery, although my clear-thinking radio partner Mitch Berg has already blogged about it. This section of the 35W freeway is very significant to the businesses in Minneapolis, and the Mississippi River has almost as much economic significance. We need to be careful to build the replacement bridge properly, but it needs to get rebuilt quickly. Some estimates put the replacement out to 3-5 years, which would create a harsh impact on jobs and small businesses located in the city.
Mayor Rybak is making a statement too, and he says, "Thank God this wasn't worse." Minnesotans are starting to finally grasp how bad this could have been -- and how bad it might have been, had Minnesotans not kept themselves from panicking in those first few minutes.
UPDATE: DoT Secretary Mary Peters is making a statement now. She praised the actions of the first responders and good samaritans, and pledged her efforts to support and coordinate the efforts to recover from the catastrophe. Peters also said that she has brought out highway-construction experts already to review what happened, and emphasized the need to replace the bridge quickly. She authorized the release of $5 million in emergency funds to Minnesota to address the traffic issues.