Pistons coach Saunders avoids Minnesota bridge collapse

DETROIT -- Road construction put Detroit Pistons coach Flip Saunders on the 10th Avenue bridge Wednesday in Minneapolis.

The detour perhaps saved his life.

"I usually take the 35W bridge, but the ramp was closed," Saunders said Thursday from Minneapolis in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "My daughter was driving in a car right behind me when the bridge collapsed -- about 20 yards away from us. It sounded like a bomb when it dropped.

"I got out of my car and the first thing I heard was the kids screaming on the bus. I called 911. I didn't really know what else I could do," he said.

Saunders, a former Minnesota Timberwolves coach, was driving home after speaking at Tubby Smith's basketball camp at the University of Minnesota, where Saunders starred as a player.

"A day later, I'm still in a surreal state of mind," he said. "I can still see what happened. It's kind of like having flashbacks."

Divers checked submerged cars in the Mississippi River on Thursday for victims still trapped beneath the twisted steel and concrete slabs of a collapsed bridge.

"Our staff was in our office when we heard the news and we walked down to the bridge to see if there was anything we could do. ... We were told at the scene there was nothing we could help with and followed the authorities' request to clear the area," Smith said in a statement Thursday. "Obviously, our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families. Our program, athletic department and university will do whatever we can to help our community recover from this disaster."

The eight-lane Interstate 35W bridge, a major Minneapolis artery, was in the midst of repairs when the bridge buckled during the evening rush hour Wednesday. Dozens of cars plummeted more than 60 feet into the river, some falling on top of one another. A school bus sat on the angled concrete.

The official death count stood at four Thursday morning, but Police Chief Tim Dolan said more bodies were in the water.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.