WASHINGTON - The White House said Thursday that an inspection two years ago found structural deficiencies in the highway bridge that buckled during evening rush hour in Minneapolis.
White House press secretary Tony Snow said the Interstate 35W span rated 50 on a scale of 120 for structural stability.
"This doesn't mean there was a risk of failure, but if an inspection report identifies deficiencies, the state is responsible for taking corrective actions," he said. The bridge was 40 years old.
First lady Laura Bush will visit Minneapolis on Friday to console victims of the collapse, which killed at least four people and sent dozens of cars plummeting into the Mississippi River on Wednesday.
President Bush first learned of the disaster while having dinner Wednesday night with the first lady. Snow said Bush received preliminary details about the bridge collapse from Joe Hagin, deputy chief of staff. Hagin called Fran Townsend, Bush's homeland security adviser, who reported that there were no known links to terrorists.
Bush asked Federal Highway Administrator J. Richard Capka and Transportation Secretary Mary Peters to go to Minneapolis, where she will announce a $5 million grant to help pay for rerouting traffic patterns around the disaster.
Bush called Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty at 8:45 a.m. EDT Thursday to offer encouragement. "He said the governor was in the president's prayers and offered any support that we can provide," Snow said. Bush also called Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak to offer his condolences and prayers for the losses, and he acknowledged the economic cost of losing a main transportation artery.
Bush then called Peters as she flew to the scene. "He stressed the importance of projecting hope and optimism and offering any help," Snow said.
The administration has sent federal help from the Transportation Department, the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the FBI, U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency, Snow said.
There is no federal disaster declaration at this time. Snow was not sure whether there had been a request for one.
The president has offered comfort to victims several times in recent months. In March, Bush he visited survivors of tornadoes that ripped through Alabama and Georgia. In April, he offered words of hope at Virginia Tech after a gunman killed 32 people and committed suicide. In May, Bush went to Kansas after a tornado wiped out the tiny town of Greensburg.