One week after bridge collapse, a call for "sustained compassion"

A gesture of hope
A group of Minneapolis residents tossed flowers into the Mississippi River on Tuesday evening.
MPR Photo/Marisa Helms

A couple dozen singers stood last night at the water's edge by Riverside Park in Minneapolis, not far from where the river bends and then meets the 35W bridge.

"Tonight we're honoring this as part of the National Night Out because it's right upstream from us," said Mary Mellen, who helped organize the meeting. "And because we live in the community, we feel it. So we just want everyone to know that we're working and healing tonight and that's why we've come together as a community and our night out means far more this time."

Police officials asked that each National Night Out block party take a moment of silence from 6:05 to 6:06 to commemorate the time of last week's bridge collapse.

Riverside Park neighbor and City Councilmember Cam Gordon led this small group in a moment of silence.

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This year's National Night out attendance was expected to be large with nearly 1,200 registered block clubs.

Mayor R.T. Rybak attended several Night Out get-togethers throughout the evening, including a spot at the river underneath the Hennepin Avenue bridge, just to the north of the collapsed 35W bridge.

The mayor said earlier in the evening, he met privately with victims' family members.

"It's been extremely difficult for the families and on some level, even harder for those who don't know. But they felt great knowing that people all over the city are honoring them," he said.

Rybak says it's going to be a long time before important questions about why and how the collapse happened are answered. He says he and other officials feel some frustration over not being able to give to the families the finality they deserve.

"The national news is moving on to the disaster somewhere else," he said. "The big objects and infrastucture will be moved. But these things don't heal in a person's soul over a weekend or a news cycle. And I feel in this community we have to practice what I know we have, which is sustained compassion."

Recovery efforts are moving deliberately and carefully.

Investigative Cmdr. Mike Martin, with the Minneapolis Police Department, says two teams of Navy officers have begun a sophisticated underwater diving program. The 16 divers are wearing hard-hat protection as they navigate the murky and danger-filled Mississippi looking for evidence and victims.

"What we're doing at this point is a surgical removal of debris," he said. "We're not lifting big pieces. They're tactically going in, and surgically removing stuff in the way where we think might be able to better access the individuals who are missing or their vehicles."

The Navy divers are working with FBI divers who are doing forensic work. Martin calls the scene "a crime lab under water." Victim recovery is a top priority, he said.

"We are running an intelligence operation that has been running seamlessly at this point, so that as soon as a vehicle is pulled out, or one of their loved ones has been recovered, that information is being relayed back to family assistance center. The families are over there eagerly awaiting news, and we want to make sure they get that news in the most timely and respectful way possible," Martin said.

Construction contractor Bolander and Sons of St. Paul is poised to begin the less delicate removal of large chunks of bridge debris. MnDOT officials say decisions about when and where to do the large-scale removal will be made on a daily basis.