President Bush got a firsthand look on Saturday at the bridge that collapsed earlier this week in the northern state of Minnesota, killing at least five motorists. Several others are still missing and scores have been injured. VOA's Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
President Bush traveled to Minneapolis, Minnesota Saturday for an aerial inspection of the disaster site. After viewing massive concrete slabs, twisted metal, and wrecked vehicles from a presidential helicopter, he visited the area on foot and met with rescuers, survivors and victims' families. Standing near the wreckage, Mr. Bush paid tribute to one rescuer in particular.
"I met a man who was on the bridge when it collapsed. His instinct was to run to a school bus of screaming children, and to help bring them to safety," he said. "We have an amazing country where people's instinct, first instinct, is to help save life."
Mr. Bush, who was accompanied by federal transportation officials as well as members of Minnesota's congressional delegation, devoted his weekly radio address to the tragedy, mourning the victims and promising a swift federal response.
"This is a difficult time for the community in Minneapolis, but the people there are decent and resilient, and they will get through these painful hours. As they do, they know that all of America stands with them," he said.
The president noted that $5 million in immediate federal aid have been made available to remove debris from the disaster site and help restore traffic flow, and that federal transportation officials are working with state and local officials in Minnesota on recovery efforts. He said more assistance would be forthcoming.
In Washington, the opposition Democrat-controlled Congress voted to direct $250 million to rebuild the bridge, which spanned the Mississippi River as part of an interstate (federal) highway and collapsed during the height of the afternoon rush hour. Some lawmakers have called for increased federal funding to monitor and maintain the tens of thousands of aging bridges across the nation. White House officials note that transportation funding has increased 30 percent since Mr. Bush took office.
The White House has taken a proactive approach to disaster response since what was broadly perceived as its slow response to Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2005.