Collapsed US bridge had problems, governor says (Roundup)
Aug 2, 2007, 16:03 GMT
Washington - An eight-lane highway bridge that plunged 20 metres into the Mississippi River during rush-hour traffic, killing at least four people, had been rated structurally troubled by government inspectors, the state governor said Thursday.
Police said 20 to 30 people may be missing in the river and the death toll was expected to rise after Wednesday's disaster on the 40- year-old span linking the cities of Minneapolis and St Paul in the northern state of Minnesota. About 60 people were injured.
President George W Bush pledged the US government's support to deal with 'the terrible situation' and rebuild the bridge quickly. The government offered Minnesota an initial 5 million dollars in aid to help get traffic moving again.
State politicians paid tribute to rescuers and ordinary citizens who tried to help victims, including a woman who dived repeatedly into the river. One severely injured man was able to say goodbye to his family on his mobile phone before dying, police said.
'This is a horrific incident that takes your breath away and sinks your heart,' Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty told reporters.
Mark Rosenker, head of the government's National Transportation Safety Board, said it was too early to say what caused the disaster. Experts will review video of the collapse and may reconstruct part of the bridge to understand what happened, he said.
The White House said a 2005 inspection found problems in the bridge and rated it 50 on a scale of 120 for structural stability.
But officials said the rating signalled no imminent danger.
'It was by no means that this bridge was not safe,' said US Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, who travelled to the disaster site. 'None of those ratings indicated that there was any kind of danger here.'
Governor Pawlenty said the government currently rates about 80,000 bridges in the US with structural problems. Engineers determined that the ill-fated span, part of the Interstate 35W highway, would need replacement only in about 2020, he said.
'Structurally deficient does not mean immediately close the bridge,' Pawlenty told Fox News television.
The disaster sparked debate about the decaying state of the US interstate highway system, launched in the late 1950s by then president Dwight D Eisenhower.
Eisenhower, a US general in Europe during World War II, was inspired by the autobahns in Germany pushed by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
'This is America. Bridges shouldn't just fall down,' said Amy Klobuchar, a US senator from Minnesota.
The bridge, built in 1967 and including a 140-metre section across the river, was undergoing surface repairs when it crashed.
Initially, Pawlenty said the bridge passed state inspections in 2005 and 2006 with superficial problems but no structural deficiencies.
Officials first put the confirmed death toll at up to nine, but revised it to four early Thursday. By dawn Thursday, rescuers said they had little hope of finding more survivors in the crumpled wreckage of the steel-truss bridge.© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur