August 2, 2007

Recovery Suspended; Inspections Ordered

The fast-moving waters of the Mississippi River have hampered the recovery efforts at the collapsed bridge in the center of Minneapolis, and the operations have been suspended. Also, Governor Tim Pawlenty ordered fresh inspections of all state bridges with similar construction:

Divers were pulled from the murky and fast-moving waters of the Mississippi River Thursday afternoon before any bodies could be recovered from the wreckage of Wednesday's I-35W bridge collapse.

At about the same time, Gov. Tim Pawlenty ordered an immediate inspection of all Minnesota bridges that have a design like the one that collapsed Wednesday in Minneapolis. Pawlenty said he did not know how many bridges have that design. ...

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lowered the water level of the Mississippi by about 1 foot today in an attempt to give emergency workers better access to vehicles at the site of the bridge. The initial plan called for divers to approach four submerged cars that were clear of the ruined bridge. But the current and debris didn’t allow divers to get close to those cars.

The water level was adjusted by opening some of the roller gates downstream at the Ford dam, said Shannon Bauer, a Corps spokesperson. The dam controls the amount of water -- called a pool -- in the stretch of river where the bridge fell.

The drawdown began to create some turbulence at the rescue site, so it was temporarily suspended. In the early afternoon, they continued to lower the water level by one more foot.

Actually, the Mississippi River has a lower level than normal anyway, thanks to a bit of a drought in the Upper Midwest. That won't last, though; we're expecting thunderstorms and steady rain this weekend, starting tomorrow night. If the rain comes down in sufficient volume and force, it could mean big problems for the recovery efforts in the river.

The Congressional delegation which returned to Minnesota overnight has pledged to gain funding for a quick rebuilding effort. The bridge formed part of the federal interstate system, and the state's representatives united to request more than $100 million in emergency construction funds to get a fast start. Norm Coleman still warns that, even with emergency funding, it could take two years to replace the bridge and restore service to the core of the city.

While the number of confirmed dead remains at four, the number of injured has increased to 79. Police warn that a number of dead remain in the river, so we can expect bad news over the next few days. The number of missing has increased to 30, which sounds rather ominous, as that predicts what the final number of dead will be.

Until they can figure out how to beat the current, though, nothing can be determined. The normal current gets amplified as it passes through the debris, and it also creates eddies and patterns that put the divers in peril. They may have to raise some of the debris before the divers can get to the cars, but that will create all sorts of other dangers.

I'll have more as it develops.

UPDATE: Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN) will introduce a bill tomorrow authorizing $250 million for the construction of a replacement bridge. (via The Corner)


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