More than 1,400 prayerful Americans gathered Sunday evening for an interfaith service to pray for the victims of last week's bridge collapse in Minneapolis.
Participants gathered at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral in Minneapolis where Gov. Tim Pawlenty as well as Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak spoke to the crowd as prayers were lifted up for grieving families, rescue workers, and traumatized survivors. Religious leaders offered prayers both from the Bible and the Quran.
"We're here to begin the process of restoration," said Pawlenty, according to The Associated Press. "We are also here to begin the rebuilding process."
The prayer service at St. Mark's was one of many other services that were held throughout the Twin Cities on Sunday.
Another was held at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in St. Paul, where church members offered prayers for the recovery of Christine Sacorafas – one of the eight people still missing, according to AP.
Sacorafas, 45, was heading to teach a Greek folk dancing class at her church, St. Mary's Greek Orthodox Church, when she was caught in traffic. She called a fellow teacher minutes before the bridge collapse and no word from her since has been heard.
"We don't know where she is," said the Rev. Richard Demetrius Andrews of St. George Greek Orthodox Church, according to AP. "There has been no word. As far as I know, they have not even found the car. This is a very agonizing time for the family, not knowing her status. Not knowing if she's alive, not knowing if she's injured or how badly."
Last Wednesday, the eight-lane I-35W bridge – a major Minneapolis artery – collapsed into the Mississippi River in less than four seconds, bringing with it dozens of cars as well as construction workers that were in the midst of repairing two lanes on the bridge.
The collapse has killed at least five people and injured some 100 people. Meanwhile, an estimated eight people are still missing as searchers continued to comb the river for the victims.
President Bush visited the damaged I-35W bridge Saturday and also offered prayer for those affected.
"On behalf of the citizens of America, I bring prayers from the American people to those who suffered loss of life as a result of the collapse of the 35W bridge here in the Twin Cities," said Bush, according to the White House. "I bring the prayers of those who wonder about whether they'll ever see a loved one again."
Meanwhile, Christian organizations have been helping to support victims and their families during the difficult time.
Salvation Army emergency disaster services vehicles have served hundreds of relief workers and survivors food and water since last Wednesday.
In addition, Salvation Army officers (pastors) and volunteers trained in Critical Incident Stress Management are offering emotional and spiritual care.
Furthermore, at the request of The State of Minnesota, the Salvation Army has pledged to raise funds through its red kettles at special venues in Minnesota to assist victims in funeral expenses, medical bills and other unexpected costs.
"Supporting the courageous individuals and families affected by this catastrophe is a privilege," said Major Paul Fleeman, commander of the Twin Cities Salvation Army, in a statement.
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, meanwhile, has sent its Rapid Response Team chaplains to serve in the aftermath of the tragedy. The Rev. Billy Graham, the man known to many as America's pastor, also reassured victims of the collapsed bridge in a statement Friday.
"We have been praying for comfort and strength for the families who have lost loved ones, the injured, and those traumatized as a result of the bridge collapse in Minneapolis this week," he stated.
"We are also much in prayer for the safety of the emergency workers who have been doing such a tremendous job of rescue and recovery," he said.
The collapse does not appear to be terrorism-related, but rather the 40-year-old bridge was "structurally deficient," reported the Minneapolis Star Tribune, citing the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Bridge Inventory in 2005.
Federal officials alerted the states late last Thursday to immediately inspect all bridges similar to the Mississippi River span that collapsed. According to 2006 statistics from the Federal Highway Administration, more than 70,000 bridges across the country are rated "structurally deficient" like the span that collapsed in Minneapolis, although it is unclear how many of the spans pose actual safety risks. Engineers estimate repairing them all would take at least a generation and cost more than $188 billion.