MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – First Lady Laura Bush visited volunteers and first responders Friday at the site of the fatal Interstate 35W bridge collapse, and called on members of the community to support the victims as well as those who are helping them.
"Over the last 43 hours, the whole country has seen the strength of the Minneapolis-St.Paul community, and because we've seen that strength, we all are confident that the bridge will be rebuilt, and that your city will heal," Bush said to applause at a youth conference, after touring the site.
She said that in addition to the victims, first-responders will need support, too.
"A lot of them — especially those big men — seem pretty tough, but we know they have needs just like all the rest of us," Bush said.
The Wednesday collapse of Minnesota's busiest bridge killed at least five people and injured more than 70.
After arriving in Minneapolis, she toured the site of the bridge collapse as well as the temporary emergency stations set up around the site that are supporting the recovery effort. She shook hands and offered encouraging words.
"I want to thank you, very very much, for helping all the people here," she told one group of Red Cross volunteers, and hugged another volunteer, Jay Reeves, who is credited with helping to safely shepherd the group of children that was on the school bus that nearly toppled into the river.
President Bush is scheduled to visit the site Saturday, where he will get updates from officials involved in the recovery and investigation of the collapse.
The steel-frame bridge built in 1967 was undergoing minor construction for resurfacing when the spans began plummeting 64 feet into the Mississippi during Wednesday's evening rush-hour. No explanation has yet surfaced, although several reports labeled the bridge "structurally deficient," a designation given to thousands of bridges across the country.
Authorities on Friday were continuing their search for bodies trapped by the rubble or underwater.
Lawmakers are seeking at least $250 million in federal emergency aid to rebuild the bridge, and it is anticipated it could take 18 months to replace it, and officials throughout the country are now re-evaluating bridge inspection standards.