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Still Trying To Recover The Bodies

Crews pulled more bodies from the murky Arkansas River with the help of sonar and large cranes that provided a much-needed boost to the recovery effort stemming from a deadly bridge collapse.

The number of confirmed deaths rose to seven on Monday after four more bodies were taken out of the water. Officials planned to resume the search Tuesday morning.

A 500-foot section of the Interstate 40 bridge collapsed on Sunday morning after a barge rammed into the span, causing about a dozen vehicles to plummet into the water. Authorities are unsure how many people went off the bridge.

"I've never seen such devastation," said Oklahoma Highway Patrol diver Terry Stephens.

He said visibility was about 1 foot in the muddy river and divers had to contend with strong currents and jagged metal shards from the collapsed bridge and vehicles.

Dental records helped identify one of the victims as Andrew Clements, 35, an Army soldier whose rank and residence were not immediately known. He was traveling from California to Virginia, officials said.

Another victim has been tentatively identified as a Texas horse trainer who was on her way home Sunday morning in a truck and trailer hauling her prize-winning horses when the collapse occurred. Published reports said the 49-year-old woman was riding in the truck with another woman from the San Antonio area who also was well-known as a horse handler on the rodeo circuit.

Friends said the two were returning to the San Antonio area from the Old Fort Days Futurity and Super Derby in Fort Smith, Ark., where the horses had won $7,000 in prizes. Three dead horses were also recovered from the river, according to the reports.

A thunderstorm forced divers to stop searching after they found one victim's body Monday, but crews used sonar to locate a sport utility vehicle and tractor-trailer that had three bodies inside. They used large cranes with claws to bring them up.

Lt. Chris West, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, said the discoveries helped improve the morale of recovery workers.

"The workers were getting frustrated," West said. "They felt like they couldn't do anything and a lot of families out there were depending on them."

Four people survived crashing into the water.

Survivor Goldie Alley was driving across the bridge with her husband Max when their car went into the water. She said she had traveled over the bridge hundreds of times with her church singing group.

"When my husband got to the edge he said, `I don't remember a hill being here,' and about that time we was in the air," she told KWTV in Oklahoma City.

Max Alley suffered a broken back and Goldie Alley had broken ribs.

Another survivor, Mississippi truck driver Rodney Tidwell, said he had no idea how he was saved but was glad he decided to wear a seat belt for the first time in his life. Police said two men in a fishing boat rescued him.

"The last thing I remember is going off the bridge," said Tidwell, whose arm was in a sling. "I'm going home. I've got three small kids and I'm going to be with them."

None of the survivors suffered life-threatening injuries.

The barge captain, Joe Dedmon, apparently blacked out at the helm before the crash and no one was immediately available to take over, according to Joel Henderson, a spokesman for Magnolia Marine Transport Co., which owns the boat, Robert Y. Love.

Dedmon tested negative for drugs and alcohol. He was hospitalized Monday pending more tests.

A veteran towboat captain said Monday he was astonished the bridge could not withstand a blow from a 490-foot barge moving upstream at only 5 mph.

"An empty barge made of half-inch steel shouldn't do that kind of damage," said David Greer of Baton Rouge, La.

"Those piers should have been anchored in the river better than that. When he hit that pier, that barge should have crunched like an empty beer can," said Greer, who formed the American Inland Mariners Association for pilots and captains on the lower Mississippi river and manages a Web site for pilots.

But Steve Tipton, a University of Tulsa engineering professor, said the impact of the collision would have been roughly equivalent to 62 2,000-pound cars slamming into the structure simultaneously at 60 mph.

"It would look deceivingly slow, like you might be able to reach out and stop it yourself," he said. "But it actually would have had a tremendous amount of power to it."

Terri Angier of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation said bridges are not designed to withstand such a blow. Angier said the bridge was rated 78 out of a possible 100 points when it was inspected in 2001, a score she said was above average.

Investigators are trying to determine whether there was anything wrong with the bridge that might have caused it to collapse, said George Black with the National Transportation Safety Board.

"We are looking at what the original design is and how the bridge has aged," Black said.

The bridge was built in 1967. Construction of the navigation channel started in the 1950s and the river was made fully navigable in December 1970.

Families and friends who haven't heard from loved ones believed to be crossing the bridge are awaiting what they fear may be terrible news.

"It's just terrible," Norman Police Chief Phil Cotten said as he and the family of a Norman, Oklahoma, couple waited for news. The two had left Norman about 5:30 a.m. Sunday on the way to a family reunion in Clarksville, Ark., and would have been on the bridge around the time of the collapse. Attempts by families and friends to reach them Sunday and Monday were unsuccessful.

"We are all waiting for the news that we are afraid is inevitable," Cotten said. "This is a real trying time for everyone."

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