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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Freeway Bridge Collapses in Minneapolis

Aired August 1, 2007 - 19:35   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: There is a story that's developing out in Minnesota right now. Carol Costello is watching it. The images we're getting the pictures we're beginning to see, Carol, very, very disturbing.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: You're right about that, Wolf. This is from our affiliate out in Minneapolis, KARE, the bridge over Interstate 35 West has absolutely collapsed. It collapsed onto the West River Parkway below and the Mississippi River.

Now, debris from the ridge apparently hit a semi truck that was driving under the bridge. That semi has caught on fire and it is burning right now. We understand that pieces of the bridge are scattered all over the parkway which apparently was filled with pedestrians and bike riders. No word on injuries yet, but I can bet we'll be hearing soon, Wolf.

I'm going to try to get more information on this and if we get better pictures than this, of course, I'll pass them along to you.

BLITZER: All right. Looks like a very, very disturbing story. We'll stay on top of it, Carol. Thanks very much.

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(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: These are the latest pictures we're getting in from Minneapolis right now. There's a really worrisome story that's developing. A freeway bridge over the Mississippi river in Minneapolis has collapsed, apparently sending many cars into the water. Tons of concrete have collapsed. People are injured. Survivors are being carried up the riverbank, that according to the Associated Press.

The entire span of this bridge collapsed about 6:00 p.m. Central time. That's just a little while ago. The freeway crosses the river near University Avenue. For those of you familiar with Minnesota.

According to this initial report that we're getting, and you're looking at these live pictures courtesy KARE, our Minneapolis affiliate there, some people are stranded on parts of the bridge that aren't completely in the water.

A tractor trailer is on fire at the collapsed scene but eyewitnesses are telling us this freeway bridge that there are cars in the water and rescue operations are now under way. Cars have plunged into the river in Minneapolis. That would be the Mississippi river. Carol Costello is also watching this story for us.

Carol, I've been to Minneapolis. I'm familiar with that area and I'm sure a lot of our viewers are, as well, but this is very, very worrisome, what we're seeing unfolding in Minneapolis right now..

COSTELLO: Yes. This was a massive bridge, Wolf. I mean, part of that bridge also collapsed over the highway below and we understand that the debris from the falling bridge hit a semi and it has caught on fire and that's probably the smoke that you're seeing.

Apparently -- I've been actually surfing the Internet trying to find out more information. There was major bridge repairs going on right there. That was in June, but it involved pavement rehabilitation, so I don't know if that had anything to do with the structure...

BLITZER: All right. Carol, hold on a second. Hold on a second. Because I think we can listen to our affiliate. Let's listen in here to see what they're reporting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was a lot of dust. I couldn't see. I couldn't see much for the first probably minute, minute-and-a-half, and then I realized that the school bus was right next to me, and me and a couple of other guys went over and started lifting the kids off the bridge. They were yelling, screaming, bleeding. I think there was some broken bones.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you doing right now, Gary?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm doing -- I have a small cut from hitting the steering wheel. Thank God I was wearing my seat belt because I don't know what would have happened because I hit hard. I feel where my seat belt was kind of like a bruise, but my back, my back really hurts from the actual time that we actually hit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Gary Babineaux (ph), thank you so much. Gary was in there on the bridge when this happened. And, Mike and Julie, we'll send it back to you guys.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just unbelievable. Thank you so much, Joe. We'll check back in a bit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gary understandably shaken there. He is talking about what had happened for him as he was on that bridge and was able to get out of his car and obviously get out of the way -- get out of harm's way but had a chance to see just everything that has been going on there. And joining us now on the phone with the Minneapolis Police Department is Amelia Huffman. And appreciate you taking a few moments to get us up to speed. If you would, let us know right now where things stand and what exactly happened today.

LT. AMELIA HUFFMAN, MINNEAPOLIS P.D.: Well, I don't have too much information for you at this point. Our information at dispatch was received just a short time ago that the bridge had collapsed and that there were cars in the water. We have personnel at the scene now for the rescue operation and we'll keep you updated throughout the night.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any idea if there was construction going on? We just heard from an eyewitness who said there was some kind of jackhammer that was being used and all of the sudden the bridge just completely collapsed. Do you have any idea yet?

HUFFMAN: It's not clear at this point what caused the collapse.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, Lieutenant, you talk about having resources there on the scene. Is the department prepared to handle something like this? And when you say resources, how many officers are specifically assigned to something like this?

HUFFMAN: Well, I'll tell you, we'll use all the resources that we have available in the city, which is quite substantial. And we'll work in cooperation with our partners at Hennepin County Sheriff's Department, Minneapolis Fire Department and other neighboring agencies if need be.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you're working an emergency situation like this, is this something you practice for in as much as communication between the various agencies?

HUFFMAN: We do work with the neighboring agencies on a variety of emergency preparedness plans and drills, both sort of theoretical tabletop exercises and in the field. And communications is one of those issues that certainly we anticipate having the need for interoperability, which is the ability to talk to people in other agencies.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you ever seen anything even remotely like this before?

HUFFMAN: No, I have never seen anything remotely like this before.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What are your officers in the field reporting to you right now as far as conditions for them to be able to go in there and help people?

HUFFMAN: Well, we'll have to keep you updated on that as time goes on because at this point, all of our efforts are focused on the operation and, you know, not much in terms of communicating back regarding what people are seeing or how people are feeling quite yet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lieutenant, are you anywhere close to the scene currently?

HUFFMAN: I am not currently at the scene. But we certainly do have people there now. And those folks will be in contact with you throughout the night.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. We appreciate your time and good luck tonight. Thank you very much for joining us.

HUFFMAN: Thank you. Good night.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to come back to THE SITUATION ROOM here. That's our coverage from our affiliate KARE in Minneapolis. Just to recap what we know, a three-way bridge in Minneapolis over the Mississippi River has collapsed sending many cars into the river below.

We have an eyewitness who has seen what's going on, has sent us some pictures through our I-Report on cnn.com. Mark Lacroix is joining us. Take a look at these pictures that we've just received in.

Mark, you took these pictures, tell us what we're seeing.

MARK LACROIX, WITNESSED BRIDGE COLLAPSE: Well, basically at about 6:00, like has been reported, the bridge just collapsed. I mean, it just fell right into the river. There had been construction going on south of this bridge for about a month and I don't want to say it's related to that but that's what may happen.

The bridge was open. People going back and forth there. Something between 20 and 30 cars I would estimate on this bridge when it collapsed. I'm in my apartment about 20 stories up so I heard this massive rumbling, shaking basically, looked out my window, saw the last few seconds of it collapse.

In fact I'm actually rather relieved I didn't see the whole thing because as been reported there is a school bus there. There's a lot of people who may have been injured or worse.

BLITZER: And what are you seeing now because you clearly have an incredible view of what's going on?

LACROIX: Well, there's a number of fire trucks on the scene as well as there's police all over. I want to say they responded rather quickly. I'm watching all the news around to see, you know, a little bit more than I can say and I want to say your friends over at FOX are accusing maybe the police of not showing up because they couldn't see it with their images.

But I want to say response is rather quick. Like I said, there's lots of fire trucks. There was a truck on the road that exploded soon after -- exploded maybe is a little dramatic, but it caught fire dramatically and has since been put out. It's now smoking. There are boats in the water now, rescue boats.

There's a lot of people, rescue workers, construction workers as well from the nearby construction who have come over to help.

BLITZER: So this is clearly a huge disaster by anyone's standards in Minneapolis.

LACROIX: Yes.

BLITZER: I take it this bridge is one of the major, major connecting points across the Mississippi River and the Twin Cities.

LACROIX: That's right. You take this bridge north to go to Duluth and you take it south to get to the south suburbs and to get yourself into downtown Minneapolis. Additionally, there are two roads that go along the river on either side under -- that go underneath this bridge.

And, in fact, one of them I take home every day from work and I came home from work early today.

BLITZER: And which may have been lucky for you. It happened at around 6:05 Central time, 7:05 p.m. Eastern, but 6:05, that's pretty much still rush hour in Minneapolis, isn't it?

LACROIX: Yes, it's toward the end of rush hour, although with the construction, it's a lot more. I will say, like I said, the bridge, thank God, wasn't fully packed when the thing fell, but it was busy and traffic behind, as I sort of charge examined the scene right after, was rather full, so like I said, I hate to speculate what the human damage is.

BLITZER: And there's -- is there any indication -- you say there was construction. What we see now, we see parts of the bridge literally atop the Mississippi River simply having collapsed. There are people standing there. Cars that just simply went down. But I assume there are many other cars that simply plunged into the Mississippi River.

LACROIX: I presume, as well. That's the best I can give you.

BLITZER: And there has been one report that we saw in the Associated Press that a school bus with children was atop that bridge, as well. Did you see that school bus?

LACROIX: From my vantage point, I can't, however, I've been monitoring the news and I can tell where it is. It's on the west side of the river here, and thankfully it was not in the center of the bridge, so the school bus is on one of the sloped portions of the wrecked bridge.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: So the school bus itself did not plunge into the water?

LACROIX: No, thankfully. I don't have anything more than that.

BLITZER: One of our affiliates, Mark, is telling us that the children got off the school bus, they are injured, some of them, but they did manage to get off the bus and at least that bus and all those kids did not plunge into the Mississippi River.

You say there was some construction going on atop that bridge. What was -- for the past month or so. What was going on?

LACROIX: You know, I couldn't tell you specifically, although if you contacted MnDOT, I'm sure they could give you all the details. But basically up and down this section of highway, which is really extensively used, there has been repair to the road. I think they were widening lanes a bit south of the river.

But they've been moving systematically throughout while keeping the entire area open. So there I can see, maybe as you can see from your images or mine, there are traffic cones all along this section. It almost looks like they put them out now.

But they've been there for days, weeks, and, yes, this section of the bridge was fully open when it collapsed.

BLITZER: And right now -- what do you see right now? You see hundreds of rescue workers? Just paint the picture that you're seeing from your window.

LACROIX: Well, I see a number of rescue boats out in the center, and people filing into it. I also see cop cars which have stationed a number of areas on the east and west side of the river on both sides of the highways. It looks like they're taking statements from a lot of witnesses. There are people around. There's also ambulances, fire trucks.

The one car that caught on fire which has caused the most dramatic display is currently being hosed down vigorously by a crane hose coming out of a fire truck here on the west side of the river.

BLITZER: We're told that's actually a tractor trailer that's on fire on this collapsed bridge. Is that what you're seeing?

LACROIX: Yes, I am. Although right now it's covered in water and smoke. So I couldn't even identify the vehicle.

BLITZER: Is this an unusually warm day? What kind of weather is in Minneapolis right now?

LACROIX: Well, it cracked 90 today. It has been hovering between the mid-80s and low 90s the past week or so. But Minneapolis in the summer does get that hot so not terribly unusual.

BLITZER: What a horrible story. Mark Lacroix, once again, just tell our viewers about these pictures that you shot that you gave CNN through CNN's I-Report, how many images did you actually forward to us?

LACROIX: I think I sent you about five or so images. I may have also sent you a picture that I took only a week ago of the bridge intact.

BLITZER: Oh, I haven't seen that one yet. If we can get that up to show the contrast between what we're seeing now, which is a collapsed bridge over the Mississippi River, as opposed to the bridge, what it used to look like, we could put those side by side to give our viewers a sense of the enormity of this tragedy of what has occurred in Minneapolis.

LACROIX: That's right. It's awful.

BLITZER: That picture right there that we're seeing shows the wreck -- the wreckage from this bridge. It simply went down over the Mississippi River, for some unexplained reason and has caused this disaster. We see people stranded atop what's left of this bridge over the Mississippi River. Cars that clearly went down as the bridge was going down.

Other cars, we're told, though, have plunged into the Mississippi River and rescue operations are under way. There's still a little time. It's only, what, about 6:55 -- almost approaching 6:55 Central time so you have maybe another hour or so of daylight there which obviously would be very important for rescue operations before it starts getting dark in Minneapolis.

What time does it start getting dark there, Mark?

LACROIX: Actually this is the longest days of the year. So we should have until about 9:00. So it is my hope, and I'm sure everyone's, that, you know, the area can be cleared before it gets dark.

BLITZER: And I want to just notify our international viewers who are joining us on CNN INTERNATIONAL of what is going on here. A bridge -- a major freeway bridge over the Mississippi River has simply collapsed. There's no explanation, no reasons are yet given why this bridge going across the Mississippi River simply went down, collapsed, sending many cars into the water, tons of concrete have collapsed in the process.

There are injured survivors who are being carried up the riverbank, including some schoolchildren who were on a school bus that was on top of this bridge. We're told though schoolchildren were injured, some of them, but they seem to be OK.

The entire span of this bridge collapsed shortly after 6:00 p.m. Central time. That's 7:00 p.m. Eastern time this evening, the freeway crosses the river near University Avenue in Minneapolis.

People are stranded on top of the bridge over the Mississippi River. Other people and their vehicles simply plunged into the water of the Mississippi River and rescue operations are now under way.

These images, these images were made available to us by Mark Lacroix, a viewer, who sent these pictures from his apartment building, which overlooks this span of the bridge. He sent these reports, these pictures to CNN I-Report, and you're seeing them now.

I want to go back briefly to our affiliate in Minneapolis, KARE. The affiliate is covering the story obviously very closely. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... with Lieutenant Amelia Huffman with the Minneapolis Police Department not too long ago who had told us that they have many crews on the scene, obviously they're going to allocate whoever they can. It's tough to get officers who are working all over the city to a scene like this because while they're trying to get in, a lot of the emergency personnel are trying to get out and get some of those folks out to hospitals.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And obviously right now we have no idea how many people have been affected by this accident. We know a lot of you are at home right now waiting for your loved ones to arrive home. This is obviously a heavily traveled route and this was right after rush hour.

We have a scene -- a crew rather, at HCMC that we will be checking in with frequently. I'm sure many of the hospitals, Regions is another trauma center that will be responding to the accident. But right now logistically it's just getting there and trying to find out how many people need help getting to those people and getting them out of the area.

Joe Friar (ph) has been on the scene. He said it was fairly chaotic. The police are moving him back because of those fumes that were coming off the bridge but what he saw were several people walking up away from the banks of the river and trying to get away from the scene if possible, many of whom had injuries and it was a pretty chaotic scene from River Parkway where he was situated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Interesting to note too, as we continue on this live picture, you don't see any air rescue personnel going down in this area. Could be any number of reasons for that. It may be just that the shot that we're holding is a little too tight and perhaps they're working outside the perimeter of that shot.

But if you look deep into the picture, you can see all of the lights and...

BLITZER: Affiliate there, unfortunately -- we just lost our affiliate there. We're going to check back with them.

I want to show our viewers, we're here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we're reporting on this disaster that has occurred in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a major bridge -- a freeway bridge over the Mississippi River has simply collapsed. We're going to show you what this bridge used to look like.

This courtesy of Mark Lacroix, our I-Reporter who lives nearby sent us this picture of this bridge. This is what it used to look like. Take a look at that. And this is what it looks like right now. That same bridge has collapsed.

It plunged into the -- cars were plunged into the Mississippi River and this situation unfortunately is continuing with a lot of questions that have not been answered. Mark Lacroix is the eyewitness who took those pictures, sent those pictures to us and has been helping us better understand what's going on outside his apartment building in Minneapolis.

Any new developments, Mark, that you're seeing?

LACROIX: No, it seems that the smoke near the burning car -- the tractor you mentioned is now fading a little bit. Although I can't say what that means. It seems to be -- the people who have filed away, including large crowds of people just up the river, have now dissipated. I'm sure a lot of them have gone home, found ways to get home.

I don't know if those people -- how many of them have cars on the bridge or who are just there to pick up loved ones, but they've all dissipated now. I see -- I heard the affiliate mention air rescues. There are two choppers in the air although I assume they are news choppers. But there are both rescue boats which seem to be getting the job done...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: How many boats are you seeing right now, Mark?

LACROIX: I see three on the -- on south of the bridge. One or two are sort of -- looks like they're shuffling in and out. It looks like they're getting the people off the bridge there.

BLITZER: And there were twin spans, correct me if I'm wrong, we saw the picture. Let's put that picture back up of what the bridge used to look like. Twin spans of this freeway bridge. There they are and both of these spans have gone down, Mark, or just one?

LACROIX: No, no, no, just one. On that photo, which, of course, I wasn't actually taking a picture of the 35W Bridge, one on the left is the 35W Bridge you see with the green archways underneath it. That is the span that went down.

On the right side is the 19th Avenue Bridge which is -- basically is not a highway. Just a bridge that goes across the river. That is still intact although they have shut down traffic on that bridge, but that is actually away for rescue workers and police officers to get back and forth. But wisely, I think they've shut that bridges down for traffic.

BLITZER: Have you lived in this area for a long time, Mark?

LACROIX: About five years, yes.

BLITZER: And have there been -- based on what you know, is there a history of problems with bridges in Minneapolis?

LACROIX: No, I -- you know, I can't claim to be an expert on the popular opinion of bridge (INAUDIBLE) in this town, but I have not heard anything, any problems. The only thing I can attribute it too is that we've had construction going up and down this span for quite a while.

Although no construction was occurring on this particular part of the bridge that I know of that -- today, that is.

BLITZER: Mark, we want to thank you very much. Mark Lacroix is just a CNN viewer who sent us these dramatic, dramatic images to CNN I-Report. And there you see this major bridge, this major freeway bridge over the Mississippi River in the water right now. And rescue operations are under way because this bridge simply collapsed, cars plunged into the water.

Other cars are -- there you are, there are some live pictures that you can see that freeway bridge much better. This, our affiliate KARE bringing us these pictures. We're going to stay with this story. I'm Wolf Blitzer with THE SITUATION ROOM. Paula Zahn is going to pick up our coverage -- Paula.

PAULA ZAHN, HOST, "PAULA ZAHN NOW": Thanks so much, Wolf.

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