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CARS, GREASE, PERSONAL ITEMS CLOG THE RIVER

The swift-moving Mississippi River, filled with as many as 50 vehicles, was clouded with grease and oil Thursday that made diving like groping in a fog. People's belongings - pens, papers, handbags, shoes - floated about. Atop the river, crushed cars were wedged amid chunks of concrete and twisted steel that at any moment could shift. Authorities planned to bring in sonar equipment, cranes and other heavy machinery to pluck through the wreckage. Officials of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, helping in the debris removal effort, said the salvage work would be hampered because the site is a submerged morgue. Detailed forensics means that every piece of concrete and metal will need to be carefully removed so bodies can be meticulously recovered. "The recovery involving those vehicles and the people who may be in those vehicles is going to take a long time," Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan said.

I-35W bridge facts

Year built: 1967

Bridge type: Deck steel truss

Length: 1,907 feet

Width: Eight lanes

Height: 64 feet above Mississippi river

Traffic volume: 141,000 cars

Inspection: Annual inspections since 1993; last inspected in June 2006

Water depth at crossing: 4 to 14 feet

Fears may spike

Psychologists say Wednesday's bridge collapse - similar to the section collapse of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake - is sure to spike bridge fears among the public, at least in the short-term. Mark Reinecke, professor and chief psychologist at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, said Wednesday's tragedy in Minneapolis likely will only reinforce bridge phobia, or gephyrophobia. "It's the fear of not being able to return to a safe place," Reinecke said. "But the likelihood of another bridge falling is no higher than it was last week."

Dueling opinions

David Schulz, director of the Infrastructure Technology Institute at Northwestern University, said he would be stunned if bridge repair work being done at the time had not played a major role in the collapse. "It's too much of a coincidence," he said. But Daniel Dorgan, head of the Minnesota Department of Transportation's bridges division, said he saw no connection between the repair work - mostly taking place on the roadway - and the collapse of the steel support structure far below.

Smooth response

Minnesota officials said the emergency response went smoothly with the exception of some communications glitches, in an event being viewed as a good test of a large regional city's ability to respond to terrorist attack or natural disaster. The Minneapolis police and fire chiefs and the Hennepin County sheriff jointly led rescue and recovery efforts. It was all part of a unified command set up according to the principles of the National Incident Management System, a federally devised plan to help governmental entities work together after terrorist attacks or natural catastrophes. "It keeps us all on the same sheet of music," said David Berrisford, state incident manager for Minnesota's Homeland Security and Emergency Management division. The response involved at least 75 state, local and federal agencies.

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