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Searchers find 2 more bodies in Minn.

Remains might include a third victim, divers say

Tarp-covered vehicles were transported by barge from the Interstate 35 West bridge collapse site in Minneapolis. Tarp-covered vehicles were transported by barge from the Interstate 35 West bridge collapse site in Minneapolis. (Nati Harnik/Associated Press)

MINNEAPOLIS -- Divers pulled at least two more bodies from the wreckage of the collapsed Mississippi River bridge yesterday, bringing the disaster's confirmed death toll to seven, more than a week after the span crumbled.

Later, authorities said the remains recovered might include another victim, which would bring the toll to eight if that is confirmed.

The first victim recovered yesterday was identified as Peter Joseph Hausmann, 47, of Rosemount.

Authorities said that they know the victims' identities from the other remains and that the victims were on the list of missing in the Aug. 1 collapse, said Andrew Baker, chief medical examiner for Hennepin County. They were not immediately identified.

Crews have been searching for at least eight people missing and presumed killed in the collapse, including a mother and her young daughter and another woman and her adult son.

Hausmann was a computer security specialist and a former missionary who met his wife, Helen, in Kenya. The evening of the collapse, he was heading to the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park to pick up a friend for dinner.

As searchers combed the river for victims, federal officials looking into the cause of the collapse issued an advisory for states to inspect metal plates, or gussets, that hold girders together on bridges.

Investigators said the gussets on the failed Minneapolis bridge were originally attached with rivets, old technology more likely to slip than the bolts used in bridges today. Some of the gussets also may have been weakened by welding work over the years, and some may have been too thin, engineering specialists said yesterday.

Questions about the gussets prompted Transportation Secretary Mary Peters to caution states about stress placed on bridges during construction projects.

Investigators are also looking at whether extra weight from construction work could have affected the bridge. An 18-person crew had been working on the Interstate 35 West span when it collapsed during the evening rush hour.

Bruce Magladry, director of the National Transportation Safety Board's Office of Highway Safety, said the agency will use a computer to simulate how the bridge might have behaved with different loads, and with different parts of the bridge failing.

"We compare what the [simulated] collapse looks like to what we actually see out there on the ground" and repeat the simulation until it matches what happened, Magladry said.

NTSB investigators have been trying to pinpoint where on the bridge the collapse began. Observations from a helicopter camera this week found several "tensile fractures" in the superstructure on the north side of the bridge, but nothing that appeared to show where the collapse began, the NTSB said.

Recovery crews have removed several vehicles from the river in the past two days. Eighty-eight vehicles have been located, in the river and amid the broken concrete wreckage of the bridge.

Also yesterday, President Bush dismissed a proposal to raise the federal gasoline tax to repair the nation's bridges, at least until Congress changes the way it spends highway money and considers the economic impact of a tax increase.

"The way it seems to have worked is that each member on that [transportation] committee gets to set his or her own priorities first," Bush said. "That's not the right way to prioritize the people's money. Before we raise taxes, which could affect economic growth, I would strongly urge the Congress to examine how they set priorities."

About $24 billion, or 8 percent of the last $286 billion highway bill, was devoted to highway and bridge projects singled out by lawmakers. The balance is distributed through grants to states, which decide how it will be spent. Federal money accounts for about 45 percent of all infrastructure spending.

Representative Jim Oberstar, Democrat of Minnesota and the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, proposed a 5-cent increase in the 18.3-cents-a-gallon federal gasoline tax to establish a new trust fund for repairing or replacing structurally deficient highway bridges.