Divers recover more human remains at bridge site

Richard Chit
Richard Chit, 20, and his mother Vera Peck were driving across the I-35W bridge when it collapsed.
Photo courtesy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press

(AP) - Divers found more human remains in the Mississippi River on Sunday, 11 days after a highway bridge collapsed into the fast-flowing water, and a crane working at one end of the ruined span removed a school bus and other vehicles.

The Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office identified the body as 20-year-old Richard Chit of Saint Anthony. Chit's mother, Vera Peck, 50, of Bloomington, is among the four people still unaccounted for after the Aug. 1 collapse.

After searching for most of the day, divers pulled Chit's body out about 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

Navy divers searched for those still missing and presumed dead. Stormy weather made their task more dangerous over the weekend, strengthening river currents Saturday.

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But conditions had cleared Sunday and the remains were recovered about eight hours into the search, the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office said.

The official death toll now stands at nine.

The yellow school bus became a symbol of a disaster that could have been worse. Everyone on board - 52 children and several adults - escaped alive.

One of the bus survivors, Julie Graves, had been accompanying children from a neighborhood center in Minneapolis on a trip to a water park the day the bridge collapsed.

On Sunday, her feet were in casts and tight wraps on her arms locked her elbows. She has been in a back brace after surgery to repair two broken lumbar vertebrae last week, but is expected to make a full recovery.

"I'm doing good," Graves said by phone Sunday from Hennepin County Medical Center. "Some pain here and there definitely. But I'm so grateful to be alive."

In all, 44 vehicles have been removed from the bridge since its collapse. About 100 vehicles had been on the structure when it fell on Aug. 1, said Minnesota Department of Transportation spokesman Kevin Gutknecht.

Most vehicles on the bridge's north end were gone; Gutknecht said work would focus on the south end for the next day or two.

Broken glass remained on a slanted section on the bridge's north end as pedestrians and cyclists peered through a mesh fence put up to keep them from getting too close.

So far, crews have cleared cars from parts of the bridge that fell onto land. Equipment is positioned to start major debris removal once the recovery efforts are finished.

The list of confirmed missing included Christine Sacorafas, 45, of White Bear Lake; Vera Peck, 50, of Bloomington; Greg Jolstad, 45, of Mora; and Scott Sathers, 29, of Maple Grove.

About 100 people were injured in the collapse, but only eight remained hospitalized, their conditions ranging from serious to good. Hennepin County Medical Center released one patient and upgraded another from serious to satisfactory condition, a spokeswoman said Sunday.

Graves, who celebrated her 28th birthday at the hospital Friday, expects to remain at the hospital for up to two weeks.

She had planned to get married at the end of the month and she said she still may exchange vows, but the wedding celebration has been pushed back to May "so I can be in full dancing condition."