Saturday, August 04, 2007

A sad time

For families of missing, waiting hurts most

Pioneer Press Press
Article Last Updated:08/03/2007 11:41:32 PM CDT

The waiting started with something as mundane as a dropped call. But since Peter Hausmann's cell phone connection went fuzzy at 6:05 p.m. Wednesday, his wife and children have been in agony.

"You don't want to hear any bad news, but you wish you had news," said Hausmann's 14-year-old son, Andrew.

Heading into the third day after the Interstate 35W bridge collapse, though, some families have conceded that the only news left about the missing must be bad.

The waiting hurts the most.

Do they begin to grieve, or do they hold out hope?

What Hausmann's daughter Justina, 16, longed for: "Answers. Why this happened. To see him."

"Some people are hopeful, but I think the hope is, they will have information," said Scott Palmer, a psychologist and volunteer counselor at the American Red Cross family support center at the Holiday Inn Metrodome in Minneapolis.

At least seven people were unaccounted for Friday in the wake of the catastrophe.
Among the missing:

Sadiya Sahal, a Minneapolis nursing student who is five months pregnant;

Hana Sahal, her 20-month-old daughter;

Greg "Jolly" Jolstad, 45, of Kanabec County, a construction worker whose compact loader plunged into the Mississippi River;

Peter Hausmann, 47, of Rosemount, a former missionary who met his wife of 17 years in Kenya;

Christine Sacorafas, 45, of White Bear Lake, an active member of St. Mary's Greek Orthodox Church in Minneapolis.

Hausmann was on his way to St. Louis Park to pick up a friend for dinner when he called his wife, Helen. He complained about the molasses-slow gridlock that had cars creeping along at 5 mph.

Then the line went dead. Hausmann's family tried calling him back several times. He never answered.

His Rosemount home has drawn neighbors, family and friends helping run the house and take the family's minds off of the catastrophe. Four friends who happen to be priests held Mass on Thursday evening in Hausmann's honor.

It should have been a joyous week: Hausmann had just learned the government of Kenya had ordered a new investigation into the 2000 shooting death of his friend, the Rev. John Kaiser.
The Mass was tough, Justina Hausmann said.

"People talked about him in the past tense, and I wasn't ready to hear that," she said.

At the Red Cross station, the mood from Thursday to Friday changed from hope to distress, said Alan Brankline, a disaster and mental-health social worker. Families and friends have been wrestling with a range of emotions, he said.

"There's some anger," Brankline said. "They're angry because they're looking at their life in a whole new different way."

But that anger doesn't appear to be directed toward the bridge's troubled history, said Palmer, the psychologist.

"I think people think it's a horrible, freak accident," he said. "They want to find out eventually what happened."

By Friday afternoon, Dorothy Svendsen had no word about her son, Jolstad, a Mora native and construction worker for Progressive Contractors Inc. Many people, including Svendsen, presumed her son couldn't have survived the wreckage.

The waiting "isn't easy," said Svendsen, of Hinckley. "We're coping."

Sahal, 23, was driving her young daughter in a white Toyota Highlander on Wednesday evening on her way to visit her nephew, a family member said. She moved from Somalia to the United States in 2000 and graduated from Washburn High School in Minneapolis.

Sahal's husband, upset about her disappearance, went without sleep the first two nights. He hasn't been able to bring himself to speak about his wife.

His despair grows as the hours pass with no answers.

"It's a race against time," said Omar Jamal, a spokesman for the family.

Sacorafas, the White Bear Lake woman, was heading to her church near Lake Calhoun to teach children Greek folk dancing. She called another parishioner shortly before 6 p.m. to say she was stuck in traffic on I-35W, said the church's pastor, the Rev. Paul Paris.

The San Diego native moved to Minnesota one or two years ago, Paris said. At a service Friday night in preparation for the Dormition of the Theotokos - or the passing of the Virgin Mary - parishioners prayed for an intervention.

"A miracle is not looking very good right now," the pastor said before the service. "We're all trying to hold onto hope that she'll be all right."

Rick Alonzo contributed to this report.

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