Hope, Tears and High Emotions

Sherry Engebretsen called her family at 5:39 p.m. Wednesday to say she was leaving her downtown Minneapolis office in a few minutes. It had been a long, stressful day.

"I said, 'We'll talk more when you get home,'" said Ron Engebretsen, Sherry's husband of 32 years, recounting the phone conversation. "And she said, 'Yeah, I'll be home in a few minutes.'"

Engebretsen's commute normally took her over the 10th Avenue bridge, but for some reason -- her family isn't sure why – she chose to take an alternate route. Late Thursday, authorities confirmed she was among those who died when the I-35W bridge collapsed. Earlier, her family had held out hope she was still alive, phoning hospitals and distributing her photo to reporters.

"She's a fighter. My wife's a fighter," Ron had said, choking back tears.

'Amazing Scene' Near Survivors

It's unclear how many people are still unaccounted for, and it could be days before authorities have an answer for relatives awaiting word. Some of those loved ones, including the Engebretsen family, have been gathering at a downtown Minneapolis hotel, shuttered in a ballroom with grief counselors and clergy.

"I know that waiting is really hard, and I'm going to do that with people, but I'm not going to try to give answers I don't have," said the Rev. Canon Margaret Otterburn of St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral in Minneapolis, who is on hand for the families.

Wednesday's bridge collapse has left a void in the heart of this city, both geographically and emotionally. Victims, rescue workers and residents are trying to understand how one of Minneapolis' most-traveled thoroughfares could turn into a death trap.

Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan's voice wavered as he spoke of victims who were trapped in their vehicles.

"There are some unbelievable testimonials and stories involving those people," said Dolan. "People that were pinned, people that were partly crushed, people that told emergency workers to say hello, say goodbye. It was an amazing, amazing scene."

Others spoke of barely surviving the same fate.

"I slammed on the brakes, and then my car started falling, and we hit the concrete or the pavement," said George Winegar, who was on the bridge when it collapsed. "Then we started falling again and my car went sort of vertical … our car ended up on top of another vehicle."

A school bus carrying more than 60 people, mostly kids, was returning from a summer camp day trip when the pavement gave way. Lynne Luban told ABC affiliate KSTP she could hear the children screaming.

"I saw the kids on the bus holding on to the seats in front of them," said a tearful Luban. "Then the bridge was down."

Gary Babineau was one of three young men who, after surviving the collapse, rushed to the children's aid.

"There were so many kids just kicking and screaming," Babineau told ABC News. "We were handing them down and carrying them to safety or just telling them to run."

The school bus driver's husband, Dave Dahl, told ABC News it was "a miracle" everyone made it out alive, though Dahl's wife, and two of their children who were on the bus, were treated for neck and back injuries.

The Search Continues

After the collapse, the phone of private investigator Tom George began ringing. He's been hired by a Minneapolis company to track down eight employees who are unaccounted for, but he said there's little he can do but wait.

"The scope of this thing is so large," said George. "I'm just standing by and being patient. Hopefully, [authorities] will give me some answers."

Those answers could come even slower now that investigators are treating the area of the collapse like "a crime scene," according to Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, an effort to preserve evidence and clues. It's a move that could prolong the pain of families.