1. Archive


As they wait in dread for news of loved ones, bonds of shared suffering unite families.
Published Aug. 6, 2007

Mohammed Sahal is in seclusion, praying through tears for his missing pregnant wife and 2-year-old daughter.

The teenage stepchildren of a red-haired construction worker called "Jolly" are huddled at home, thinking about the man who helped raise them and imagining the horror he must have experienced as he plunged into the river.

About 50 other people gathered Saturday in a stark white classroom on the campus of Augsburg College - strangers bound forever by the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge and the torturous wait for confirmation of what their hearts already know.

"Every time a cell phone rings or an officer calls, they think it's for them," said Melanie Tschida of the Red Cross.

At least five people were killed and about 100 injured when concrete and steel abruptly gave way in Wednesday rush-hour traffic, sending dozens of vehicles and tons of debris into the Mississippi River. Authorities confirmed late Saturday night that eight people are missing.

Some of their relatives can barely contemplate life without a loved one, said volunteer Allan Brankline. They stare at photographs while waiting for new information .

"They are asking themselves, 'When is the last time I spoke with them? What is the last thing I said?' " said Brankline, a mental health specialist and certified social worker from Rochester.

In four seconds, lives changed. People who were strangers are now embracing, Brankline said. Long-estranged relatives are speaking.

"The first day, the families really sat amongst themselves. But as time's gone on, those boundaries are evaporating because they're all experiencing this together," Tschida said.

Saturday afternoon, nearly 40 relatives boarded buses for a police escort to the nearby 10th Avenue bridge, where they peered over the edge and into the wreckage below. Most stood silently for several minutes before reboarding and returning to Augsburg.