Search crews overnight pulled out the 10th and 11th bodies from the wreckage of the interstate bridge collapse, officials said Thursday, and loved ones of two of the four people still missing said their sad wait had ended.
The remains weren’t immediately identified by officials, but family members and friends of Vera Peck and Christina Sacorafas said their bodies were found.
The first remains were found in a vehicle recovered about 8:20 p.m. Wednesday, with the second set of remains found about 3:30 a.m. Thursday, the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release.
The vehicles were taken from the Mississippi River bottom, where the bridge plummeted Aug. 1, the release said.
David Chit, former husband of Peck, 50, of Bloomington, said her body was recovered.
“Obviously we are in the mourning mode right now,” Chit said.
Separately, the Daughters of Penelope, a national Greek community group, issued a statement saying crews had recovered the body of Sacorafas, a member of the group. Sacorafas, 45, of White Bear Lake, had been driving to her church to teach a folk dancing class at the time the bridge fell.
Officials have released the identities of nine people killed in the Aug. 1 collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge. Before the latest recoveries, four people were listed as missing. Besides Peck and Sacorafas, they were Scott Sathers, 29, of Maple Grove, and Greg Jolstad, 45, of Mora.
Senior Chief Dave Nagle, a spokesman for the Navy divers on the scene, said recovery operations were ongoing Thursday.
Plans for new bridge questioned
State transportation officials want to build a replacement bridge by 2008, and several contractors have said they think it can be done on time.
But on Wednesday, lawmakers and others questioned the fast-track plans for the bridge, expressing doubts it will be a quick solution to the increased traffic that has clogged city streets since the collapse.
State Sen. Kathy Saltzman, a Democrat, said quality problems and delays have plagued another bridge project near her home. “If we can’t build a bridge in three to five years, why do we think we can do it now in overdrive?” she said.
Others pushed to make the bridge more than a replacement for the fallen span, with a memorial to the victims and the capacity to carry future light-rail trains — even if the state has to pay extra.
The replacement plans call for a 10-lane bridge, two lanes wider than the original bridge. Transportation officials said the $250 million in federal emergency aid limits them to replacing the existing structure, and other add-ons could delay the project by months or years.
Bridge reconstruction project manager Jon Chiglo said five teams of contractors qualified to bid on the project didn’t think the fast timeline would be a problem, and he was confident the plan would work.
The public got its best view in weeks of the bridge collapse when the city briefly opened a nearby pedestrian bridge Wednesday, but the span was closed after recovery workers called the move disrespectful to families of those still missing. The bridge will remain closed until all bodies have been recovered.
A federal judge denied a law firm’s request for access to the collapse site to gather information for possible death and personal injury lawsuits. District Judge Patrick J. Schiltz said the government has “an urgent interest” in recovering victims and clearing the wreckage as soon as possible, and its task would be complicated if access were given.
Survivors honored for their heroism
Across the city, a few survivors of the crash were honored for their heroism. First Student, the company that owned the school bus that became an iconic image of the tragedy, held a ceremony in which it presented $5,000 checks to four adults credited with preventing the death or serious injury of about 60 kids on the bus.
Bus driver Kim Dahl, who a company official said had the presence of mind to jam on the parking brake, possibly preventing the bus from sliding off the bridge into the river, made her first public comments since the collapse.
“I don’t feel like a hero,” Dahl said. “I think anybody in the situation would do the same thing.”
Jeremy Hernandez, who also was honored for helping the kids get off the bus, said he had decided to accept an offer of free tuition from Dunwoody College of Technology, which he previously hadn’t been able to afford. Hernandez plans to become an auto mechanic.