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Divers find remains from bridge collapse   Send a link to a friend

[August 10, 2007]  MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- More than a week after a well-traveled bridge collapsed into the Mississippi River, divers began recovering the bodies of people missing and presumed dead.

Two days after joining the search, Navy divers recovered the remains of two, or perhaps three, people from piles of debris from the Aug. 1 collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge.

Authorities identified Peter Joseph Hausmann, 47, from nearby Rosemount, as one of those whose remains were recovered. Divers later found more remains initially thought to have belonged to one person, but authorities later said they may have belonged to two others. They were not immediately identified.

"The additional remains appear to probably represent more than one individual," said Medical Examiner Andrew Baker.

Hausmann was among eight people listed as missing and presumed killed after the collapse. Authorities believe the other remains found Thursday also belonged to those on the list of missing.

Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek said the dive team had been able to penetrate most of what's called the debris field, the area where the bridge's deck collapsed. There are a few of those spots left to penetrate, after which "some debris may have to be removed significantly before we make additional recoveries," Stanek said.

Baker said it might become more difficult to positively identify remains now that they've been in the water more than a week. He said dental records and DNA evidence would be used if needed.

Hausmann was a computer security specialist and a former missionary who met his wife, Helen, in Kenya. The evening of the collapse, he was heading to St. Louis Park to pick up a friend for dinner. Hausmann called home while sitting in traffic, but the line went dead.

As searchers combed the river for victims, federal officials issued a national advisory for states to inspect the metal plates, called gussets, that hold bridge girders together.

Investigators said the gussets on the failed Minneapolis bridge were originally attached with rivets, old technology that's more likely to slip than the bolts used in bridges today.

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Some of the gussets also might have been weakened by welding work over the years and some of them may have been too thin, engineering experts said Thursday.

Questions about the gussets prompted Transportation Secretary Mary Peters to caution states about stress placed on bridges during construction projects.

Investigators are also looking at whether extra weight from construction work could have affected the bridge. An 18-person crew, heavy equipment, and piles of sand and gravel had been on the span when it collapsed during the evening rush hour.

Bruce Magladry, director of the National Transportation Safety Board's Office of Highway Safety, said the agency will use a computer to simulate how the bridge might have behaved with different loads, and with different parts of the bridge failing. He said there are infinite combinations to test, so the simulation may have to be run 50 times or 5,000 times.

"Then we compare what the (simulated) collapse looks like to what we actually see out there on the ground," Magladry said, and repeat the simulation until it matches what happened.

Observations from a helicopter camera this week found several "tensile fractures" in the superstructure on the north side of the bridge, but nothing that appeared to show where the collapse began, the NTSB said.

Also on Thursday, President Bush dismissed a proposal to raise the federal gasoline tax to repair the nation's bridges at least until Congress changes the way it spends highway money and considers the economic impact of a tax increase.

[Associated Press; by Patrick Condon]

Associated Press writers Archie Ingersoll in Minneapolis and Frederic J. Frommer and Jennifer Loven in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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