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Gloom rains on city, and wait goes on

No more bodies are recovered; a storm briefly stops the bridge search in Minneapolis. Bush visits, pledging federal aid to rebuild.

August 05, 2007|Erika Hayasaki and Garrett Therolf | Times Staff Writers

MINNEAPOLIS — Divers scoured treacherous waters searching for bodies on Saturday, stopping for a brief period when a rainstorm sent twisted metal, glass and debris whirling dangerously in the Mississippi River.

Time ticked by too slowly for frustrated families waiting a fourth day for news about loved ones whom they had not heard from since Wednesday night, when the Interstate 35W bridge buckled, killing at least five people and injuring nearly 100 others.

Authorities said at least eight people were still considered missing.

Since the collapse, divers have navigated cloudy waters unable to see what lurked ahead of them. They swam against powerful tides and pried open doors of sunken cars. On Saturday, one diver got tangled in a vehicle and needed help getting free.

Still, no more bodies were found.

Outside one family's home in Rosemount, about 20 miles from downtown Minneapolis, cars lined the driveway as friends stopped by to pray for a missing Peter Hausmann, 47, and to comfort relatives of the former missionary.

"We're still waiting," said Hausmann's 16-year-old daughter, Justine. "We don't know anything."

He was speaking to his wife, Helen, when the cellphone cut off at 6:05 p.m. He hasn't been heard from since.

Helen Hausmann spent Saturday near the site of the collapsed bridge talking to counselors and authorities. By late evening, the family still did not know whether he was dead or alive.

"I never thought that I would have to deal with something like this," said Justine.

But she said she had to be strong for her younger siblings. "If I crumble, they crumble."

President Bush surveyed the disaster scene from a helicopter Saturday morning and, later, looked over the graveyard of cars submerged in oily dark water.

Besides speaking to rescue workers, he met with the families of two victims: Sherry Engebretsen, 60, who had been on her way home for a dinner sending off her 20-year-old daughter to dance camp; and Patrick Holmes, 36, who had been headed to day care to pick up his two children.

Bush offered condolences to the victims' families. He also pledged assistance in rebuilding the bridge, saying the federal government would work with state and local offices "to cut through that paperwork, and to see if we can't get this bridge rebuilt in a way that not only expedites the flow of traffic, but in a way that can stand the test of time."

The president also spoke with Gary Babineau, who was driving his truck across the bridge when it fell.

Babineau escaped his vehicle and rushed to help rescue a busload of children bound for home after a field trip.

Bush praised everyone who jumped into action when the bridge buckled.

"A lot of people's first instincts here in the Twin Cities was to save the lives of somebody who was hurting," Bush said.

Democratic Mayor R.T. Rybak said he hoped that the president's commitment of assistance would extend beyond several news cycles and that the bridge would be rebuilt to be sustainable for decades.

"The nation's infrastructure is not a sexy topic," Rybak said, "but public water, public housing, public transportation are all things that have not been properly funded."

In order to help pay for reconstruction, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty has decided he is willing to back off his opposition to a state gas tax increase, said spokesman Brian McClung.

"The governor will be working with legislators to craft a comprehensive and long-term plan," McClung said, adding that if that plan included the governor's and Legislature's ideas, Pawlenty "would be willing to support a gas tax increase."

Meanwhile, Congress is expected to approve a $250-million relief package to help rebuild the bridge.

As the day stretched on here, the rain slowed to a drizzle.

In a church south of downtown and away from public officials and news conferences, mourners gathered for the first funeral for one of the bridge victims, 29-year-old Artemio Trinidad.

In the towering sanctuary of Holy Rosary Catholic Church, they placed a crucifix and an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe beside Trinidad's body, which was dressed in a powder-blue suit that matched his casket.

His wife said goodbye.

After Trinidad's rosary and funeral Mass, the priest baptized his 2-month-old daughter, Lorena.

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