Re: Suspicuos Bridge Collapse...
Bush surveys bridge, pledges aid By DEB RIECHMANN, Associated Press Writer
Sat Aug 4, 5:38 PM ET
MINNEAPOLIS - President Bush pledged Saturday to cut red tape that could delay rebuilding a highway bridge that once arched over the Mississippi River but now lies crumbled in muddy water concealing some victims.
Bush, still dogged by his administration's sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina, toured the site of Wednesday's collapse, which sent dozens of cars sliding into the river from the Minneapolis span. At least five people died and about 100 others were injured.
"Our message to the Twin Cities is, we want to get this bridge rebuilt as quick as possible, that we understand this is a main artery of life here — that people count on this bridge and this highway system to get to work," Bush said as he stood next to the buckled spans, still littered with abandoned vehicles.
"There's a lot of paperwork involved with government," he said. "One of our jobs is to work with the governor and the mayor and the senators and the members of the Congress 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."
Divers continued searching the river for victims Saturday, pausing periodically so crews could remove debris that stood in the way. Eight or more people are believed trapped in the wreckage.
The government is providing a $5 million grant to help remove tons of debris and reroute traffic. Congress sought to direct $250 million to rebuild the bridge. A final vote awaited in the House on Saturday. Congress still would have to appropriate the money in future legislation.
Bush offered no timetable for rebuilding the bridge, a project he put in the hands of Transportation Secretary Mary Peters.
"I do promise she's going to listen to the local authorities to find out what the folks here need," Bush said. "I do promise that when she sees roadblocks and hurdles in the way of getting the job done, she'll do everything she can to eliminate them."
In recent months, Bush has had to console victims of several disasters. In March, he visited survivors of tornadoes that ripped through Alabama and Georgia. In April, he offered words of hope at Virginia Tech after a gunman killed 32 people and committed suicide. In May, Bush went to Kansas after a tornado wiped out the tiny town of Greensburg.
Whatever the tragedy, the administration's reaction inevitably is compared with its slow response to Katrina, which devastated the Gulf Coast in August 2005.
Bush flew to Minneapolis aboard Air Force One, then boarded the Marine One presidential helicopter for an aerial tour of the broken bridge, which had been rated structurally deficient by the government as far back as 1990.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and others conferred with Bush during the private flight.
"We talked about the specifics, about what we know about how the bridge fell and how we're going to rebuild it," Rybak said.
Back on the ground, the scene was eerily quiet as Bush descended a steep slope to the riverbank. The silence was broken only by the droning of turbines from a nearby power plant. Red and blue lights flashed from rescue boats as Bush surveyed the damage: A slab of concrete that resembled an Alpine ski jump; metal shaped like an accordion; straight reinforcement rods that now look like curved prongs of a pitchfork.
The president praised rescuers and investigators who are working "to find life, to go under these murky waters to find the facts, and it's going to take a while."
He talked with first responders, rescue workers, the families of two victims and people who witnessed the disaster. The president put on a hard hat and gazed at a school bus, still hugging the guardrail of a lane of the highway, which now looks like an uphill ramp to nowhere.
Gary Babineau, 24, of Blaine, Minn., a construction worker who helped bring the school bus children to safety, said his pickup truck fell about 30 feet but did not go into the water.
"When it fell, I saw the whole bridge fall in front of me, just disappear," said Babineau, who was on his way home from work when the bridge collapsed. "All the cars disappeared. I had a free fall and just landed incredibly hard — thought my back might have been broken."
Despite his ordeal, Babineau assigned no blame.
"I think if someone did not think it was safe to drive on I think they would have come forward and if they didn't, you know, shame on you. These things do happen. I don't think it's anyone's fault," Babineau said.
Federal transportation officials have announced plans to investigate the agency responsible for inspecting highway bridges. The inspector general for the Transportation Department said the inquiry would focus on the Federal Highway Administration's inspection program and ways to improve the agency's oversight of more than 70,000 bridges that have been found structurally deficient.
Federal and state officials are working with the National Transportation Safety Board to understand why the bridge collapsed.
"I don't want to speculate before they get in and complete their work about what the cause was, but clearly this was not something that we expected to happen given the history of this bridge, the inspection process and how this bridge was rated," Peters said during the flight with Bush to Minnesota.
She spoke about the need to find better ways in the future to prioritize spending on roads, bridges and other public works.
"We certainly have aging infrastructure here in the United States ... but I do believe that American highways and bridges are safe," Peters said. "But certainly we need to look to the future and make sure that we are spending our money where we need to be spending the money."
Isn't it grand when the government has us at their mercy, allows disasters/terrorist attacks to occur and then the President steps in and portrays the protector role by pledging aid. Role reversal. Abuser/Protector/ - Protector/Abuser. Reminds me of my handler/controller.