Families waited anxiously for news of missing relatives as divers searched through the dangerous debris left by Wednesday’s bridge collapse.
Police Chief Tim Dolan said four people were officially counted dead after their bodies were recovered, but divers have spotted more that they could not reach.
20 to 30 people remained unaccounted for, he estimated.
“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.”
Dolan’s voice wavered as he recounted stories of victims who called out to rescuers, who were unable to help.
“There are some unbelievable testimonials and stories involving those people,” he said. “People who were pinned or partly crushed told emergency workers to say ’hello’ or say ’goodbye’ to their loved ones.”
Relatives of some of the missing gathered in a hotel ballroom, waiting for news and hoping for the best.
One of the missing was Sadiya Sahal, 23, who left her home at 5.15pm on Wednesday with her two-year-old daughter, Hanah Mohamed, in the back seat.
Sahal, who is five months pregnant, called her family at 5.30pm saying she was stuck in traffic on the bridge, according to Omar Jamal, a spokesman for the family. That was her last phone call.
“Her husband is destroyed. He’s in shock,” Jamal said.
Sahal, who is studying nursing, came to the United States from Somalia seven years ago and graduated from Washburn High School in Minneapolis.
Ronald Engebretsen, 57, of Shoreview, and his daughters were hoping for news of his wife, Sherry, 60.
She called their 18-year-old daughter Jessica at 5.39pm on Wednesday and said she was leaving her job at Thrivent Financial in downtown Minneapolis to head home.
They had planned a family dinner before Jessica’s sister Anne, 20, left for dance camp later that night.
When Sherry Engebretsen didn’t show up, the girls began calling her mobile phone.
The Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office announced later yesterday that Sherry Engebretsen was one of the four people confirmed dead.
The other three are Julia Blackhawk, 32, of Savage; Patrick Holmes, 36, of Moundsview; and Artemio Trinidad-Mena, 29, of Minneapolis.
Hennepin County Sheriff Richard Stanek stopped at the hotel where families waited yesterday afternoon to assure them that rescue crews were doing everything they could to find the missing.
After a night of waiting, they were getting worn down by uncertainty, he said.
“They are grieving, and they are in different stages of grieving,” Stanek said. “No matter how you cut it, when you have deaths and destruction and tragic circumstances, it tears at you. What I want to do is give them some hope or some outlook that we’re doing everything we can for them.”
About 15 divers and a dozen boats were in the water, but the search was going slowly, he said.
By mid-afternoon, they had located four cars under the water besides the dozen or so visible from the surface. Stanek would not say whether any bodies had been found.
“It’s a very dangerous situation down there,” Stanek said. “There is a lot of debris, concrete and rebar in the water, and it’s changing the current of the river.”
He ordered a lock and dam system to lower the water level from nine feet yesterday to make diving safer.
An Army Corps of Engineers spokeswoman said the water was were rescuers wanted it last night – down a foot.
Sheriff’s spokeswoman Kathryn Janicek said yesterday afternoon that dive teams were rotating in and out of the water, but reports that they had stopped searching were false.