Divers checked submerged cars in the Mississippi River Thursday for a count the victims still trapped beneath the twisted steel and concrete slabs of a collapsed bridge. As many as 30 people were reported missing as the rescue effort shifted to recovery.
The official death count stood at four Thursday morning, but Police Chief Tim Dolan said more bodies were in the water. Hospital officials counted 79 others injured.
"We have a number of vehicles that are underneath big pieces of concrete, and we do know we have some people in those vehicles," Dolan said. "We know we do have more casualties at the scene."
The eight-lane Interstate 35W bridge, a major Minneapolis artery, was in the midst of repairs when the bridge buckled during the evening rush hour Wednesday. Dozens of cars plummeted more than 60 feet into the Mississippi River, some falling on top one of another. A school bus sat on the angled concrete.
Under water, divers were taking down license plate numbers for authorities to track down the vehicles' owners. Getting the vehicles out was expected to take several days and involve moving around very large, heavy pieces of bridge.
"The bridge is still shifting," Dolan said. "We're dealing with the Mississippi River. We're dealing with currents. We're going to have to do it slowly and safely."
He said police estimate that 20 to 30 people were unaccounted for, though he stressed that it was just an estimate.
At Hennepin County Medical Center, patients had arrived in a steady stream after the collapse, some unconscious or moaning, some barely breathing, others with serious head and back injuries, Dr. William Heegaard said.
"There was blood everywhere," he said.
Relatives who couldn't find their loved ones at hospitals gathered in a hotel ballroom Thursday morning for any news, hoping for the best.
"I've never wanted to see my brother so much in my life," said Kristi Foster, who went to an information center set up at a Holiday Inn looking for her brother Kirk. She hadn't had contact with her brother or his girlfriend, Krystle Webb, since the previous night.
Authorities initially said at least seven people had died, but Police Lt. Amelia Huffman lowered that number Thursday morning, saying, "The medical examiner's office only has four sets of remains." She said the initial reports were based on the best estimates authorities had.
As many as 50 vehicles tumbled into the river when the bridge collapsed, leaving those who could escape to scramble to shore. Some survivors carried the injured up the riverbank, while emergency workers tended to others on the ground and some jumped into the water to look for survivors. Fire and black smoke rose from the wreckage.
The Homeland Security Department said the collapse did not appear to be terrorism-related, but Hennepin County Sheriff Richard Stanek said Thursday that the cause was still unknown.
"All indications are that it was a collapse, not an act of someone doing it," Stanek said.