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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Mississippi Freeway Bridge Collapses

Aired August 1, 2007 - 20:00   ET

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


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: We continue the breaking news tonight out of Minneapolis.
As you have just heard, a freeway bridge over the Mississippi River collapsed just an hour ago. The eight-lane bridge carries Interstate 35 West over the river. We're looking at live pictures at what is at stake here.

You can see off in the distance some -- some smoke rising from the air just below the bridge. We are told a tractor-trailer that was on fire now -- well, you can see the white smoke from that. That doesn't appear to be as serious as it did just five minutes ago.

Reports from Minneapolis say many cars have plunged into the water. And some survivors are being carried up the riverbank, one report suggesting that as many as 20 to 30 people injured. Eyewitnesses say there was also a school bus filled with children on the bridge, but that it did not fall into the water.

However, some of those children were injured. Other people are stranded on parts of the bridge that, as you can see, aren't completely under the water. There are also as many as three rescue boats on the river at this hour, police requesting ambulances at the scene.

Right now, I want to go to Mark Lacroix. He witnessed the collapse and took some of the very first pictures.

Let me make sure we have him online yet. We do not.

But he suggested in just his last report, it appeared as though, if you look at this picture carefully, that the bridge collapsed at the center, so the people at the near part of your picture on the left side apparently were spared getting into the water.

On the right side, perhaps those folks weren't so lucky. This is going to be a very complicated rescue scene situation here. It is not clear at this hour how many cars have plunged into the water. We just heard a local reporter from KARE-TV saying this was at the tail end of the rush hour. A lot of conflicting information here. Another local reporter saying it was in the middle of the rush hour and there was bumper-to-bumper traffic on both sides of this freeway span.

We are hoping to get Mark Lacroix on the phone with us shortly. Once again, there is precious little information now.

Now, I do know from an eyewitness account that there was some construction work going on at this bridge site. Not any specific information of exactly where and what might have contributed to this collapse.

Once again, let me quickly review for you what we know at this hour. A freeway bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis collapsed just about an hour ago. Tons of concrete have collapsed with it. People are injured, some reports suggesting at this hour at least 20 to 30.

As you could see, it is the middle part of the bridge that went into the water. Rescue efforts include trying to get people plucked out of the water as well as those who are on the part of the bridge that didn't go completely into the water.

The whole city rescue system has been put on alert. We know that ambulances are on the way. We know at least three boats are also in the water to try to assist in the rescue.

We're going to try to dip into some of KARE-TV's coverage right now to give us a better sense of what these rescue workers are up against.

OK. Apparently, I'm going to try to do the best job I can and try to explain to you what has happened here, being severely limited by the fact that not much information is coming in to us.

But, at a minimum, it is believed there were a couple dozen cars and trucks on this bridge, tail end of rush hour. Cars as you can see are still on some sections of the bridge. We know that a tractor- trailer was on fire at the collapse scene, and as you can see here, cars just precariously perched at the angle at which just part of the bridge went in.

We're going to show you a picture now of what the bridge looked like before it collapsed. We have one witness on the bridge saying, my truck got completely torn in half as it collapsed. The bridge just started shaking. It went down fast. It is just horrific, said this witness.

She saw a school bus that somehow managed to stop before going over the edge of the bridge that she said was carrying at least 20 to 30 children between the ages of 8 and 12.

We also know from eyewitnesses that cars are crushed and mangled under that section of the bridge that went down that appears to be the middle part that caved in, street signs crushed along with those cars.

This stretch, or at least part of the stretch of the road, has been under construction since the beginning of the summer.

The terrifying thing about this collapse, of course, is that it's both the northbound and southbound lanes of 35 West lying in the Mississippi River.

I wish I could be of more help to you. We're going to quickly try to re-rack an interview with a gentleman who witnessed the actual collapse.

His name is Mark Lacroix. Listen to how he described what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK LACROIX, EYEWITNESS: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Since we heard him file that report for us, we do know that ambulances are on the scene and that they have carried some of the injured up the riverbank on their way to the hospital -- no official word on injuries, but once again, we know that dozens of rescue vehicles have been involved.

We also know that divers are in the water in this hour. Witnesses describing cars and trucks buried under the mangled part of the bridge. As you could see on this stretch of the bridge, that it would be very easy for people to get stranded on this part that didn't go completely into the water.

It is not clear what led to this collapse. Once again, reports that this section of the freeway had been under construction since the beginning of the summer.

We are going to come back to the breaking story out of Minneapolis when we're able to bring you new information.

But, right now, we're going to focus on a different drama playing out, this one on Capitol Hill, where ex-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and a line of top generals testified today in the Pat Tillman case.

Tillman is the hero NFL star who traded in his football career to fight for his country. He died three years ago in Afghanistan, at first hailed for his heroic death under enemy fire. But the truth came out just five weeks later. His own comrades killed him accidentally.

Well, today, as we hear from Dana Bash, Congress called a hearing to get to the bottom of what Tillman's family has long called a military cover-up.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A familiar face returns, along with his trademark feisty rebuke of his critics.

DONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I know that I would not engage in a cover-up. I know that no one in the White House suggested such a thing to me. I know that the gentlemen sitting next to me our men of enormous integrity and would not participate in something like that.

BASH: It was Donald Rumsfeld's first appearance on Capitol Hill since leaving the Pentagon last year. Called to testify about when he learned that Army Ranger and NFL star Pat Tillman was killed by friendly fire, not the enemy in Afghanistan, as the military first announced.

RUMSFELD: I don't remember.

I don't recall when I was told and I don't recall who told me.

I just simply don't recollect.

BASH: He did not have many answers, and Democrats' frustrations from the Rumsfeld days came quickly rushing back.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: It does not seem credible that you didn't know this information.

BASH: Tillman was accidentally shot by fellow soldiers on a mission to rout out Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.

Within days of the 2004 incident, a classified memo was circulated, but Tillman's family and the public were not told the truth for weeks.

BASH: Democrats said the bungled Tillman case, like the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, suggest a pattern of top Bush officials avoiding responsibility and accountability.

REP. PAUL HODES (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Do you see why some would think that in the case of both Abu Ghraib and in the Tillman investigation, there were deliberate efforts to avoid accountability? And if you see that the manner in which this serial kind of narrow investigating, never answering the questions about who at the top knew what is a problem...

RUMSFELD: Congressman, I don't, obviously, agree with your characterization of the history of this.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, Rumsfeld did express remorse for the pain that Tillman incident caused, especially to his family. But, for the most part, Rumsfeld was vintage Rumsfeld. He answered pointed questions in the same combative way that he did when he was defense secretary. And it's that way, Paula, that made him such a lightning rod here on Capitol Hill.

ZAHN: Dana Bash, thanks so much for that update. Right now, we continue on with our breaking news out of Minneapolis tonight. We have reported, if you were with us at the top of the hour, that a freeway bridge over the Mississippi River collapsed just about an hour ago. The eight-lane bridge carries Interstate 35 West over the water.

If you look at this picture closely, it appears as though it was the center part of the bridge that caved in -- people stranded on the angled part that did not go into the water.

Let's turn to Joe Costello, who happened to witness this collapse.

Joe, we are so sorry about what has happened there.

Describe to us what you saw and what you heard.

JOE COSTELLO, EYEWITNESS: I was walking on a pedestrian bridge about a quarter-mile west of the span called the Stone Arch Bridge when I saw a bunch of smoke, light-colored smoke, shoot up straight into the air from the south end first, actually. And then it rippled to the north end, so the south end went down first followed by the center section, and then it rippled to the north end.

A very strange noise, as you can imagine, a lot of wind with that amount of weight. Several of us on the bridge -- there were not many people -- were a little bit stunned. And I was by the loch on the river, on the west end, and I heard the loch operator from -- that was right where it happened screaming over the radio to call for help.

But we were a little bit confused, because it was five to 10 minutes before we heard any sirens, so we didn't know if it was a planned demolition of the destruction going on. And we suspected it was down to one way in both ways. So, hopefully, that reduced the number of cars.

But I walked up close. Several cars are completely totaled. Did not see the rescue workers rushing around super fast. I did see people move around getting out of their cars, but a lot of smoke, a weird smell. But the south end went down first.

ZAHN: Joe, let me come back to a point you were making, because I think this is really important, because there had been initial reports that construction has been going on, on this span of the freeway since the beginning of the summer.

Are you saying that it is your belief that, perhaps, traffic might have been down to one lane on each side because of this ongoing construction?

COSTELLO: That's what I believe. I believe that is what was advised on the news this morning advising people of traffic all day that it would be reduced to one lane and to stay away from there if they could throughout the day today. So, that may have reduced the number of vehicles on the bridge.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Well, that would be a miracle, if that were the case, because this is an eight-lane bridge, right?

COSTELLO: Yes.

ZAHN: And tell us more about this planned demolition that you thought you might have been witnessing.

(CROSSTALK)

COSTELLO: There are several bridges in that area. There's a 10th Avenue Bridge and then a railroad bridge past that.

We weren't sure which one it was. And so, we didn't know if it was part of the construction, because -- just because we didn't hear sirens for so long.

Excuse me. There's -- as you can imagine, it's mayhem right now. But it just -- it was so long before we heard any sort of commotion from anywhere that we -- and we didn't see a lot of panic at first. So, we thought maybe it had something to do with construction because we were quite a ways away, but, as we got closer, I saw both lanes were down, of course.

ZAHN: Joe, as we're looking at this aerial picture, we see obviously the middle part of the bridge in the water, and then the two ends of it angled at a very, very precarious angle.

COSTELLO: Yes.

ZAHN: Can you make out how many people you think might be trapped on those sections of the bridge that didn't go into the water?

COSTELLO: Oh, I was standing on the north end, and there's a piece that's about a third of the way south that's kind of buckled. And that's preventing a view into the water from the north end.

My guess is that section of bridge, if it was one lane, there's -- I mean, there could be, you know, 10 to 20 cars in the river, including construction vehicles as well.

ZAHN: Can you see any of the rescue boats from where you're standing now?

COSTELLO: I saw several rescue boats, and I saw two or three sheriffs and local police rescue boats come through the west loch about 10, 15 minutes ago, so there are probably about a half-dozen rescue boats down there as well.

ZAHN: Have you seen any survivors pulled out of the water?

COSTELLO: Not on the water, no. But out of cars on the north end, I did see some get out through their sunroofs and check on others. And there were some people laying on the side. And, again, the lack of panic and hurry by the rescue workers indicated to me that there didn't seem to be anybody too bad on the north end. But there was one crushed vehicle that, either there's nobody in there or the person had perished, because the cops just looked inside and walked past.

ZAHN: Joe, we would love for you to stay on the line because we also have joining us right now the assistant director of 311 in Minneapolis, Don Stickney.

Thank you so much for joining us, sir.

What kind of a disaster do you think we're looking at, at this hour?

DON STICKNEY, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, MINNEAPOLIS 311: Well, it's pretty significant here in Minneapolis. We're treating it as a disaster. Our emergency operation center will be up and running here very shortly.

So, we will be taking care of this. And we're approaching this as a disaster here for the city of Minneapolis. Even the non- emergency center here at 311 is very, very busy right now.

ZAHN: What do you involve doing? We have heard that there might be as many as six rescue boats in the water. How many ambulances have been brought to the scene and how successful have you been in carrying survivors out of there?

STICKNEY: Well, as I mentioned before, we're the non-emergency number here in the city of Minneapolis, so we're helping people with information as to where to go and what to do, if they're trying to check on people, and we're going to be providing that information and giving directions to people, even for people wanting to go to the Twins game tonight, if they're still doing that, to what route they may take, because the 35-W bridge, of course, is unavailable.

ZAHN: Since that's your job, to provide that kind of information, are you able to give us any sense at all of how many cars and trucks might be trapped under this mangled part of the bridge and how many people might be in dire need of help at this hour?

STICKNEY: At this point, I am not able to do that. Our fire and police department people and representatives will be available shortly to help you with that information.

ZAHN: Don, can you clarify one point for us? We just had a guest, Joe Costello, who was an eyewitness that had a really good understanding of what -- obviously, what he saw and what he heard.

He said that, on the radio this morning, that commuters were warned that some of these lanes might be shut down due to ongoing construction. Is it your understanding that maybe only one lane was opened in each direction?

STICKNEY: I do understand that the lanes were restricted as to how many lanes were open because of the construction. But, also, this would have been the busiest time of the day, irrespective of how many lanes were open.

ZAHN: And what kind of construction work was going on?

STICKNEY: I'm not -- I'm not exactly sure, other than that it was some general maintenance that was required for that 35-W stretch.

ZAHN: Well, we know you have got a lot of work to get done tonight.

Don Stickney, thank you for helping us out.

STICKNEY: My pleasure.

ZAHN: And, in the meantime, I'm going to quickly recap for you, those of you just joining us, what we think is going on in Minneapolis tonight.

A freeway bridge over the Mississippi River collapsed just a shade over an hour ago. It is, in fact, an eight-lane bridge . It carries Interstate 35 West over the water. But what we understand at this hour because of ongoing construction, we hope that only one lane of this bridge was open in either direction.

Those are what initial reports are suggesting. If that is true, hopefully, that will bring down the chances of the number of people possibly injured here or even worse than that.

Now, pictures from the area continue to show smoke rising from the area just below the bridge. The part of the bridge that went into the water was the center part. A tractor-trailer truck still on fire at this hour, although under control.

Reports from Minneapolis say many cars plunged into the water. Some survivors are being carried up the riverbank. We know there are six boats in the water, dozens of ambulances on the way. They, of course, are on the highest state of emergency alert in Minneapolis.

Probably one of the most chilling things we have heard tonight so far are eyewitnesses who say they saw a school bus filled with children on the bridge, but it happened to be on a part of the bridge that was angled going down in the water. They don't believe the bus went into the water, but they do think some children were injured.

Other people stranded on parts of the bridge that aren't completely under the water.

Let's quickly go back to Joe Costello, who saw all of this happen.

Joe, update for us anything that you have learned from the last time we spoke.

COSTELLO: I'm standing on a high hill just southwest about a quarter-mile, as close as the police will let us get. I'm just seeing some heavy-duty tow trucks, wreckers heading into towards the area. Saw a couple of emergency vehicles screaming away from the scene. Again, don't know if there's anybody in there.

But also important to note that construction was not only on the bridge, but a couple-mile stretch of 35-W even north of there. So it was just not the bridge that was under construction. It was a couple- mile stretch that's been under construction for several weeks.

ZAHN: And can you help us understand what kind of work was going on?

COSTELLO: When I had driven on it over the past few weeks, it's just been some resurfacing. They had, you know, taken away a few inches of surface, and they looked to be resurfacing it.

(CROSSTALK)

COSTELLO: From what I could see when I was...

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Had there ever been any concerns about the safety of the bridge, from what you can remember?

COSTELLO: None whatsoever. They were not doing -- as far as I could tell, they were not doing any work underneath the bridge. I have used it many times and have frequently seen inspectors hanging from the bucket underneath looking at it. So, it's been inspected. I have seen it myself several times over the past two or three years. But there was no work going on underneath the bridge.

ZAHN: Joe, although the city official we just talked to described this as an absolute disaster, I have to say we were all kind of relieved from your reporting that perhaps only one lane was open in each direction of this eight-lane freeway.

I don't know if you can see what we're looking at now from the hill where you're standing, but we are seeing rescue boats hovering closer to that center part of the bridge that went into the water. Can you see that?

COSTELLO: I cannot. There's trees blocking my view of that where I'm at. But, again, my estimate, it was down to one lane at 6:00 at night in each direction. There's probably, safely, 10 to 20 vehicles in that water right now.

ZAHN: It's extraordinary when you look at this picture the angle of both ends of the bridge and the way they look like they were just sheared off almost standing upright. That must be a very eerie thing for you to be looking at from the hillside...

(CROSSTALK)

COSTELLO: Very scary. And I crossed the north end, and it had crushed -- it crushed a rail car. And one spot away that was crushed was a tanker car with -- it could have been hazardous material that could have been crushed and even added to the disaster, so it was very lucky that didn't happen.

ZAHN: And, Joe, once again, since we haven't heard from city officials, we have no idea how many cars, how many trucks are trapped under the mangled parts of this bridge.

We really don't even have any understanding at this hour how many people were trapped on the ends of the bridge that you can see there almost standing upright.

Joe, if you would be kind enough to stay with us, you really are as close to this as anybody has been all evening.

COSTELLO: OK.

ZAHN: We're going to take a commercial break.

And in addition to coming back to you, Joe, we're encouraging people to file I-Reports into CNN.com. We saw some extraordinary pictures a little bit earlier tonight from people like you who happened to be in the area as this large section of the bridge came down.

Once again, our breaking news coverage out of Minneapolis will continue after this short break. Please stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: We're back watching the breaking news tonight out of Minneapolis.

It is an absolute disaster, say city officials. A freeway bridge over the Mississippi collapsed just over an hour ago. The eight-lane bridge carries Interstate 35 West over the river.

You are looking at some I-Report pictures of the area showing smoke rising from the area just below the part of the bridge that collapsed, which is the center part of the bridge. Reports from Minneapolis say many cars plunged into the water and some survivors are being carried up the riverbank, others still in the river. Every hospital in the area dedicating resources to this.

Eyewitnesses say there was a school bus filled with children on the bridge. They do not think it fell into the water. However, they do think children were injured.

Now, the scariest part about all of this, as you look at the picture and the way the bridge, literally, the middle part of it, just sheared off, you have people stranded on the angled part of the bridges -- bridge on both sides that aren't in the water. Rescue operations are under way for them.

There are also rescue boats on the water. We're told at least six of them. There are drivers in the water. Obviously, the concern is that a number of cars and trucks are submerged underneath the collapsed part of that bridge. We have no idea what kind of numbers we're talking about. The bridge also collapsed onto riverside roads and railroad tracks.

We have seen flames visible at several points underneath the bridge. A local radio station is reporting that multiple patients have been taken to a local hospital, some with critical injuries. There are no reports of deaths yet.

Let's return to Joe Costello, who's standing on a hillside not far now from where the bridge went down.

Joe, I think the most important piece of information you have given us here tonight is, in spite of the fact this is an eight-lane freeway, because of construction going on, you are hoping and you believe that only one lane was open in each direction during rush hour, right?

COSTELLO: That is information that I had as of this horning morning. And, absolutely, I'm certainly praying for that.

ZAHN: Yes. We're all praying for that.

COSTELLO: And just to add, I saw the school bus with the back door open. And it looked like everybody had gone out.

ZAHN: It did? It looked like those children were rescued?

COSTELLO: Yes. There's no commotion around it. It was right where the fire is by the semitruck. It's right next to the semitruck that's on fire. So, I saw the back part of that school bus open, where the people were all out of there.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Yes, Joe, it's kind of hard for us to tell from this picture now, but describe how it looked like the middle part of the bridge simply was sheared off, and then you have the two remaining pieces on each end literally almost standing up.

COSTELLO: Yes.

It was just -- the way it came down, it came down in sections. It wasn't the whole thing all at once from the south to the north end. It just rippled from the south to the north with strings of smoke going -- just rushing in the air, just shooting straight up, probably 100 feet or so from the south and middle section.

There was no smoke shooting up from the north end when that buckled. And it just was -- it was an eerie, eerie noise and very weird and then a very eerie silence for several minutes, because we didn't hear any sirens or anything for five to 10 minutes after it happened.

ZAHN: These pictures are just absolutely horrifying, especially when you think about the possibility of how many cars and trucks may be trapped under the middle part of the bridge. It's very hard to make out from this angle about the ongoing rescue efforts. We heard some ambulances blow by you earlier. We can see two rescue boats. What else can you see from where you're standing?

COSTELLO: I have seen about every kind of emergency vehicle you can imagine.

There's a sheriff's department big rescue vehicle coming in. I see a couple ambulances rushing as well now and -- and several heavy- duty tow trucks heading in that direction down River Road, on the south end.

ZAHN: We also heard reports of divers in the water. Did you see any of them go in or any of them come out?

COSTELLO: I have not been able to see that from my vantage point.

ZAHN: And can you give us a sense how many ambulances might have left the scene?

COSTELLO: In terms of ambulances, at one point, on the northwest side, probably about 30 minutes after it happened, I saw a line of about four or five waiting to get down there, but I would estimate every emergency in the vehicle in the city is down here at the moment, so tens and tens of vehicles.

ZAHN: Yeah, Joe, in fact, we were talking to a city official who basically said every single resource in the city now will be dedicated to this. I know it's really premature to try to figure out why this bridge went down, but I think you also made an important point that it was your understanding that the construction work that has been going along this -- going on along this stretch of freeway all summer long, basically involved resurfacing. To your knowledge, there wasn't any structural work being done?

COSTELLO: That's my understanding, correct, that they were peeling away old parts of the surface and going to be resurfacing it. I know recently they were working on some of the inside lanes, just north of the bridge. So, I would have -- I have no idea which lane would have been closed. I would imagine the far right lane because the far right lane is in an on and off-ramp only on the bridge, otherwise it narrows down to three lanes, so I imagine that would be the one they'd leave open.

ZAHN: I just -- as you look at this picture, you can't think of anything more horrifying to contemplate what it must have felt like as the bridge you were driving over simply gave away. As you were standing there and saw this whole thing happen, what crossed your mind?

COSTELLO: Just stunned. As I said, there are several bridges and I walked up to some other gentleman who saw it as well and we -- we immediately began debating what bridge it was, we weren't quite sure because you could see several in the area and we were just too stunned and I couldn't verify that it was 35-W until I walked closer to the scene. But there was just a very eerie, eerie silence and, again, because of the lack of sirens right away, we -- there was almost no reaction at first. My immediate reaction was that it wasn't that big of a deal, to be quite honest.

ZAHN: Joe, if you wouldn't mind standing by, we're going to dip into local coverage by KARE-TV. They obviously were the first on the scene as this bridge gave way. Let's listen in to some of their reporting, right now.

JOE FRYER, KARE-TV: ...at this point, they're at the scene, so I think they're looking for answers at this point. Where we're standing is probably not how they're going to find out about how their children are doing. And a number of them, it appears, may not even actually speak English, some of the parents here who are on the scene and so they are probably confused or trying to figure out as much as they can. Where they're standing right now, they're not going to probably find out much about the condition of their children.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And they're not being allowed in closer to the scene, Joe, is that what you're saying?

FRYER: At this point, I'm not sure if they're allowed to or if that's going to help at this point. My guess is they're kids probably have been taken to the hospital at this point, if that was necessary.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you seeing many people still being transported past you in emergency vehicles or by emergency personnel or is that not happening where you're standing?

FRYER: Not from where I am standing and it is the Weight House -- it looks like w-e-i-g-h-t house, w-I-g-h-t house, which was about 60 kids, one person was guessing, that were on the bus on this swim team, at the time. Again, this is just from one parent who was at the scene and they are trying to find out more about their kids at this time, but -- so they are probably just as starved for information as many of us are at this time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any idea on the age of these children?

FRYER: Hold on, let me check.

How old are the kids?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).

FRYER: Eleven. So, we're talking around 10, 11, nine years old, in that range, is what many of the kids were, but we can't say for sure whether all the kids were that age.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we know that they're just kind of arriving on the scene while you're talking to us. We're just wondering if any of them have been able to make cell phone contact with any of the kids, any indication of that?

FRYER: Not at this point. None that we have talked with have been able to. Keep in mind, if these are 9, 10, 11-year-old kids, chances are those kids don't have cell phones. So, cell phones are not going to be a way they can reach these kids and even if those kids have cell phones, chances are, they're still on the bus. They don't have them with them still...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And that's obviously what these parents are assuming is that the kids are on the bus and haven't been transported anywhere yet. Does there appear to be -- we know the state patrol is setting up a command unit in the area. We know the Red Cross is setting up a spot there to help with the rescue workers and to help take care of some of the children who might have been in a situation where they're on a bus and didn't have a parent nearby. Is there any indication around you where the command center is up so when people are looking for a loved one, they have a place to go?

FRYER: Not where I am, but we haven't been directed to those areas yet because they're trying to keep us away at this point, as opposed to letting us closer. There are probably some command centers. Whether they've set up command centers for loved ones yet, we don't know at this point, and obviously a lot of these parents don't know because they're standing here. I see one, presumably a father, or man who is on the phone at this time, trying to clearly reach someone.

Parents with concerned look on their faces with their kids but they just don't know a lot of information at this point and no one standing where we are is probably going to be able to guide them in the right direction, yet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right, Joe, we'll let you try to grab a word with some of those parents if you can and find out if they've made contact with any of their kids and we'll check back with you shortly. Thank you, Joe.

FRYER: All right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 7:35 in the evening right now, Caroline has been on with this story for the last hour or so, this is the I35-W bridge collapse over the Mississippi in Minneapolis, near the campus of the University of Minnesota, and as Joe Fryer has been reporting from the scene now, that's where several cars, maybe as many as 100, early reports are that there were many cars on this span when it collapsed around 6:00 this evening, for all intents and purposes rush hour. The extent of the injuries not quite clear, at this point, though our Trish Volpe is at HCMC where many of the injured have been taken. And we're hearing anywhere from stable up to critical condition. At this early juncture, no reports of...

ZAHN: And we are going to dip out of the KARE-TV reporting to confirm this one fact. CNN now able to confirm that one person has died. A statement from the Department of Homeland Security says at this point, those people have tried to come up with some reason why this bridge collapsed, shouldn't be something that they should be leaping to. Let's come back to Joe Costello, who has been our eyewitness throughout this hour.

Joe, I guess we were relieved to hear about the status of these children from those local reporters, but it sounded like, from their reporting and obviously, we need to make it very clear in these situations that it is very tough to nail down information, that perhaps the children were still on that bus. Didn't you see children being rescued from that stretch of the bridge?

COSTELLO: There was -- the section that I saw with the school bus, it seemed like the nose of the school bus, right next to the trailer of a semi -- was, they were both on fire. The back door of the school bus was open and I'm looking at the school bus facing south, but there was nobody around the vehicle. There's nobody moving in or out of the vehicle. And from what I could see, just from the back, looked like the back two or three seats were empty. So, it seemed to me that everybody had gotten out, but there's nobody -- no rescue workers or firemen around that area for at least a good first 20, 30 minutes that I saw.

ZAHN: Well, if that ends up being true, obvious, a great deal of relief. I mean, we're all sitting here watching this, just wondering, the fear of anybody who knows of a loved one who is commuting home at this hour, but particularly thinking of a bus full of nine and 10 and 11-year-olds being trapped on a bus, it just sends chills down your spine, doesn't it?

COSTELLO: It does, it does.

ZAHN: Let's talk a little bit more about potential numbers here. Once again, Joe, you're our local expert. There's even conflicting information about how wide this stretch of the freeway is. Is it, in fact, an eight-lane interstate bridge?

COSTELLO: It is, it is and that bridge is an eight-lane bridge. The highway just south and just north of it is three lanes in each direction. That's because there's an exit-only lane that constitutes the fourth lane in each direction and that's from Washington Street, on the south end, up to University on the north end. So, when people come on from Washington heading north, they have to merge over as they're crossing the bridge, otherwise, they're stuck and will get off at University. So, for that, the whole bridge is eight lanes.

ZAHN: All right, Joe, we're going to continue to rely on you, but I'm going to break away from our conversation, right now, to check in with Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar, who joins us from Washington, right now.

Senator, we feel terrible about what's happened in your home state. What are you being told about how many people might have been affected by this bridge collapse, tonight?

SEN AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: Paula, it is just too early to know. We believe there were a lot of cars, this is a very busy bridge. It's actually just about a mile from my home and it is right, as you know, over the beautiful Mississippi River, it's near the Metrodome, it's really right in the heart of the city, and just thousands and thousands of commuters use this bridge every day and so, one can only imagine that there were a lot of cars.

There was some construction in the area. I know that from being home last week. It's unclear to me if there was construction on this part of the bridge, but there has been some construction in the area, and again, it's too early to know exactly what happened here, but our thoughts are with the families and we're also asking people to try to stay off their cell phones unless absolutely necessary to the area codes in Minneapolis and the surrounding areas. It's impossible to get through for many people who may need to call, and so, we're just asking people to be careful with those 612, 651 area codes if they can avoid it.

ZAHN: Senator, if you don't mind hanging on for one second, we are going to put on air the deputy director of Emergency Operations.

Christie, can you say your last name for us tonight?

KRISTI ROLLWAGEN, DEPUTY DIR MINNEAPOLIS EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS: Sure, my name is Kristi Rollwagen.

ZAHN: What are you up against, here? We've seen the middle part of the bridge collapse. We understand that there could be cars and trucks underneath this mangled mess. What do you think is going on?

ROLLWAGEN: Well, at this point, we have all of our resources on scene and we are trying to identify how many cars we actually have in the river and how many cars are still a part of that collapse and that's what you're looking at. At this point, we have confirmation of three people that are dead on scene, right now. We are attempting to put out a fire from a semi that's been cut in half due to the collapse. And we are also putting dive resources in the river to start to do searches of the cars that are in the river.

ZAHN: Kristi, clarify for me the statistic you just used about three...

ROLLWAGEN: Right now, we have confirmation of three people that have perished in the accident. At this point, I don't have any other count for injuries. We're trying to still assess that situation.

ZAHN: And there's been some confusion about how much construction work was going on under this stretch of the freeway...

ROLLWAGEN: You know, I don't know any information about that and that's not something that I want to comment on. I just came right into this, to our Emergency Operations Center and we are dealing with trying to affect a rescue, right now...

ZAHN: Absolutely, the only reason we were struck by that fact is if it's true, hopefully, that will be more lives will be spared if the thing wasn't completely open. What is your biggest challenge right now? I understand you've got rescue boats in the water and ambulances around the scene.

ROLLWAGEN: It's just getting our arms around what the actual situation is here and to continue to do rescue efforts and, if necessary, transition into a recovery mode once all of the rescues are done. But, what I do know is it did unfortunately happen at the busiest time of our rush hour and we also have a baseball game coming -- that started, there was traffic coming in to town for the baseball game.

ZAHN: So, there really, at this hour, is no way to have any idea of just how many cars were on this bridge in either direction.

ROLLWAGEN: I have no confirmation of that, no, I do not, but I do know that it did happen at our busiest time of the evening, for rush hour, and I have, I've been given estimates of somewhere between 50 and 100 cars that are in the river, but I have no confirmation of that, right now.

ZAHN: Kristi, as parents, I think the thing that probably upset us most was to see that school bus. We can't see it now in our picture but we did earlier, sort of on the right side of the screen, hovering over a part of the bridge that didn't go in the water, do you know anything about the status of those children?

ROLLWAGEN: I know they were trying to get the school bus emptied and to safety and that was one of the things they were working on as I was en route to our Emergency Operation Center.

ZAHN: Is it your understanding, then, our witness that we were just speaking with, believes from where he was standing on the hill, it looked like the back door of the bus was open, so, you know, hopefully, those children are out of harm's way. Can you confirm that for us or it's just too early to tell?

ROLLWAGEN: I do not have any confirmation whether that school bus had children on it or not. I don't know at this point.

ZAHN: And give us a sense, right now, of what kind of emergency operations are under way. I guess all the hospitals now are dedicating the resources to this disaster?

ROLLWAGEN: We have called in every ambulance that we can to the scene to help us transport victims as we get them out of the cars. We have all of our collect rescue resources in our city, as well as our surrounding jurisdictions, that are in our staging area helping us execute a rescue there, as well as we have dive teams in the river and boats on the river. We also have structural engineers on scene that are now assessing the bridge, because the last thing we want to do is have a secondary collapse here with all our rescue workers on the bridge.

So -- and we're trying to put out the fire at the same time. So, there's a lot going on right now. And would I would must ask -- if I could use this opportunity to just ask the public to please, please, please stay away and to ask those that want to help to just hang tight and we will be working through our mutual aide partners to request those resources, so no self-dispatching and no public would be very helpful for us.

ZAHN: Yeah, I'm sure you want people off their cell phones so those lines to be open. Kristi, you know, obviously at this hour, as you're nearing sunset, this is a race against time -- how much more complicated will this become if you don't have sunlight?

ROLLWAGEN: Well, we have weather moving in, too.

ZAHN: Excuse me?

ROLLWAGEN: Unfortunately, we have weather moving in, as well, so, I don't know how much more could go bad, here, but right now, we've got the perfect storm brewing out there, so we're trying to work as hard as we can to pull people out of there.

ZAHN: And once again, we are very sad to report that you were confirming that at least three people have been killed in this bridge collapse. Can you give us any sense of how many people were successfully rescued, how many people got out of there?

ROLLWAGEN: I don't have that count yet, I'm sorry, I can't give you that information, I just don't have it.

ZAHN: And can you also help us understand, if you look at this picture, and it is just absolutely extraordinary how the two ends of the bridge, basically, are almost standing upright and you got the whole middle section of the rest of the bridge that is in the water. Looks like it broke off in thirds.

ROLLWAGEN: Yeah, it was very much reminds me of the pictures we saw of the Northridge earthquake, when that happened.

ZAHN: Yeah, you're not the first person that said that. They said it almost sounded like an earthquake, when it happened. Kristi, anything else you want to share with us? We know you got a lot of important work to do, before we let you go?

ROLLWAGEN: Well, you know what? If people are looking for something to do, dough go donate blood. You know, go do something that will help us as we get these folks to...

ZAHN: We hope people will heed that call. Kristi Rollwagen, thank you very much for your information.

Once again, the news out of Minneapolis is not good tonight. We know that a bridge has collapsed, there, during the height of rush hour, the director of Emergency Preparedness just telling us, now, that initial reports suggest that as many as 50 to 100 cars were on the bridge at the time of the collapse. We know that Minneapolis is using every single resource it has to deal with this disaster. They're in the process of trying to put out a fire of a semi trailer truck that was literally cut in half. You can see that, right next to the school bus.

Now, there is a lot of conflicting information on the school bus. We have an eyewitness, Joe Costello, who saw all this happen. It is his belief and, boy, do we hope this is true, we are praying that this is true, that from his vantage point, it looks like the back door of the bus was open. He certainly did not see any people in the back three rows of the bus. I think we got Joe back with us.

And this is the part of the story, I mean, any part of this is really terrifying, but to think of nine and 10 and 11-year-olds trapped on a school bus as a bridge gives underway is just unimaginable.

COSTELLO: Yeah, I'm just crossing the pedestrian bridge, west of the scene. I just spoke with three policemen who come up covered in sweat with gloves on and I spoke to one, I can't remember his name, but he said he saw, personally, seven dead bodies in cars down there.

ZAHN: Seven dead.

COSTELLO: He confirmed the number was seven.

ZAHN: Oh, my god. And we don't know if...

COSTELLO: And the look on his face said it all. He just -- the other two officers didn't want to talk, they just kept moving and he just gave me that information, told me I could tell that to CNN and he didn't want to say anything else. It's just, look on his face, they're very down and depressed. And, so, it's bad. There's thunder and lightning now to the northwest moving into the area.

ZAHN: You know, the -- I don't know whether you could hear my conversation with Kristi Rollwagen, who's the deputy director of Emergency Preparation, she said, basically you got everything working against you, right now: the sun's going down, bad weather's moving in. How are you going this...

COSTELLO: It was extremely warm today, so there's a front moving in now. There are just thousands and thousands of people moving down here, so it's clogging up the streets. But, I'm now looking at -- I'm on the north end -- I'm looking at several, about a half dozen ambulances just parked at with lights on not going anywhere about a quarter mile from the scene.

ZAHN: I'm trying to imagine how this rescue and recovery operation works once you lose daylight. You've got divers in the water, you got rescue boats in the water. Look at this. Joe, you're not probably seeing the same image I am, but it's probably the clearest picture we've seen at how some of these cars just this rescue and recovery operation works once you lose daylight. You've got divers in the water, you got rescue boats in the water. Look at this. Joe, you're not probably seeing the same image I am, but it's probably the clearest picture we've seen at how some of these cars just got trapped at the point at which the bridge was literally sheared off.

COSTELLO: I was able to snap some pictures earlier from the very north end, right by the -- where the damaged train is looking almost straight down, and there was -- there were several cars completely just crushed. Again, those are the cars where I initially saw some policemen walk up to the drivers' windows and look in and kept walking on by, so either the person was deceased or not in the car.

ZAHN: Joe, we're looking now at a really distressing picture of some of the cars and trucks that had fallen from the part of the bridge, basically, where you see it almost standing upright and the wreckage on the banks of the river. It is just horrible.

COSTELLO: It's -- I've never seen anything like it in my life.

ZAHN: Yeah, Joe, I know you were describing this is a very busy time of night. The emergency workers just telling us, in fact, the height of rush hour. Did you hear anything more from police about how many cars or trucks might have been on the bridge when it collapsed?

COSTELLO: Did I hear anything?

ZAHN: Yeah.

COSTELLO: No, I -- I didn't hear that number. I'm familiar with that stretch of road, again, if it was reduced in lanes like I believe, strongly believe that it was, the number of 100 cars sounds high to me, but if all four lanes are open, that would be good a good number, but I think the lanes were reduced and I think that number is a little high.

ZAHN: And Joe, for the folks that weren't with us at the top of the hour, you so accurately described that, in fact, construction work has been going on along this span of the freeway all summer long. You believe that it just involved resurfacing and no structural work at all.

COSTELLO: That's my belief, right, because it was not just concentrating on the bridge, it was concentrated from the bridge north about another mile, half mile to a mile north of the bridge, as well.

ZAHN: You know, Joe, what I guess what is amazing me for the better part of the hour, you and I have been looking at the same scene of this firefighters trying to put out this fire of this semi trailer truck that was literally cut in half. That -- from this angle, doesn't appear to be completely under control right now.

COSTELLO: No, they're still cordoning off areas and there are still some unsecured areas around. So, yeah it's -- although now I'm approaching the far northwest side of it and I'm about at the back end of the train, as close as you can get.

ZAHN: So, how far away would you say you are from...

COSTELLO: I am, I am about a tenth of a mile right by -- right behind the train that's damaged, just west. I got a helicopter right above me and power lines.

ZAHN: So...

COSTELLO: The (INAUDIBLE) is yelling at us to get away because there's power lines down, as well.

ZAHN: Oh, well you better be careful. Help us understand this, when you talk railroad cars, part of this bridge ended up collapsing on railroad tracks? OK, we might have lost Joe Costello for a moment, a lot of concern that there are down power lines.

COSTELLO: I'm sorry, I can't hear CNN anymore.

ZAHN: OK, Joe, feel free to...

Joe, we're going to listen in on your conversation, feel free if you're with police officers, there, to ask them questions and then relay the information to us.

COSTELLO: I will, I'll try to get to some police officers, here.

ZAHN: Are they close by?

COSTELLO: No, they are not.

ZAHN: OK, I don't want to get you in trouble and certainly don't want to put you in danger.

COSTELLO: Come back to me in a few minutes and I'll have more info for you.

ZAHN: Just one final question before we let you go. Can you -- do you have any sense of how many divers might be in the water and how many ambulances have left the scene with injured?

COSTELLO: I can no longer see the water from where I'm at, but there are, from where I see, there's probably a good half dozen ambulances just standing idle an eighth to a quarter of a mile away from the scene. So, they're obviously not been called into action, yet. Now they're pushing the crowd back a little further, here.

ZAHN: Not a good signed and yet, we do understand that this rescue operation is very complicated. It may just be a while before we see any of those injured.

Joe, we will let you get on to trying to talk to whoever you can to bring us up to date. You have been our eyes and ears tonight and really have given us a very accurate picture of what kind of disaster is unfolding, here. We're going to let you go and quickly dip back into KARE-TV's coverage, that's the local television station, there. They have a lot of reporters on the ground. Let's see what they have found out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Greg, what can you tell us from your view?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mike, right now, can you hear me, right now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, we can.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, I'm on the north end of the bridge, on the west side of the bridge by St. Anthony main. As you can see right back here, there are still, oh, 10 or so, maybe more cars in the bridge right here. You can see where it bent at this one point near some railroad tracks. There are also some railroad cars here trapped underneath.

One of the things that I've heard talked about is they're calling for help from all over town and as we arrived here, on the north side of the river, we saw water patrols from St. Croix, Ramsey, and Washington Counties, Anoka County rushing by to help, they are bringing their boats in. We also saw ambulances departing, the since we got from the urgency that we heard in the blast of the siren is that perhaps, perhaps, I emphasize that, they were carrying some injured. Now, I'm talk -- I'm standing here with Will Farley. Will was over in the Dinkytown area just before this happened.

Tell me how you became aware of this.

WILL FARLEY, WITNESS: We were driving on the Fourth Street university area heading back to my girlfriend's apartment and all sudden, we saw a giant dust cloud just appear and at that point, we had no idea what was going on and we just kept on driving over the bridge at which point, we saw the bridge was bent in half and construction workers were just staring there with blank faces on their look and nobody really knew what was going on, so we drove down to the river and which point we realized the magnitude of what just took place.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, you sort of -- everyone is stunned.

FARLEY: Nobody in was going on. Construction workers, there was no cops, there was no ambulances, at that point. Everybody in Dinkytown was just utterly confused, for sure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And your thoughts when you looked down?

FARLEY: You know, it's cliche, it doesn't happen, but I mean, obviously, there was construction going on, I mean, makes a little bit more sense.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have an estimate -- how many cars, did you try to count cars?

FARLEY: It's rush hour traffic on 35-W, I mean, come on. There's got to be something, there's got to be something bad going on down there, so.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, yeah, OK, thank you so much. Will Farley, he, as you heard, came to the bridge moments after this happened. There are probably, I would guess, 200 to 300 people down here just trying to see what has happened to get a sense.

We keep getting pushed back. You can see one of the train cars here that would carry, I suspect, again, we're just -- this is a best guess here, but carry some kind of liquid, you can see, it has been dented. We are not sure what is in that, although I did talk to an officer who said it had been checked. So, right now, that's what we see from here -- Mike.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, we'll pick it up. Thank you, Greg. We're going to stay with you in just a couple of moments. Also want to let you know that the Twins game that is going on there at the dome, which has been a concern for folks as to how they would deal with that massive traffic going through downtown. Apparently, they are telling us now that the Twins game will go on because officials with the team and, of course, with security, are concerned that if they let people out...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It will make it worse.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, you put that many more drivers on the road. So, that's the situation. If you have a friend or family member who is at the Twins game, they're going to be there through the evening, because we're told right now, is they are, whether they want to or not, barring an emergency, of course, they're being asked not to leave.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, traffic and people coming by just to look at the scene are certainly a cause for concern for emergency workers, there, asking people to take detours at 280, 694...

ZAHN: And we thank our colleagues at KARE-TV for taking us straight to the scene through their reporting. As you can see at this hour, a lot to learn, a lot of questions unanswered. We have no idea why this bridge collapsed. We know construction was going on. We hope to have some of those pieces of information as the night goes on.

If you happen to witness this collapse and have pictures or video from the scene, please send us those images to us. That might give us a better understanding of what went wrong. Go to cnn.com/ireport or please call us at 404-827-1500.

Before we go, we're going to quickly bring you up to date on the breaking news, tonight, our of Minneapolis.

City officials, there, calling it an absolute disaster. A freeway bridge over the Mississippi collapsed at 6:00 p.m. Local Time during the height of rush hour. CNN has confirmed at least three people are dead, but one of our eyewitnesses, Joe Costello, spoke with a police officer who gave him the permission to report that he, himself, the police officer on the scene, had seen as many as seven people dead. Most of them trapped in cars that had been thrown from the bridge on to the banks of the river.

The eight-lane bridge carries Interstate 35 west over the river. At least, we are told by some officials, this is very hard to get a fix on, right now, that maybe as many as 50 to 100 cars were on the bridge at the time of the collapse. You can see from the live pictures that are going in and out now as bad weather is moving in, smoke still rising from below the bridge, a semi trailer truck still on fire, reports say that many cars plunged into the water, some survivors being carried at the riverbank, others still in the river. Divers in the water, every hospital dedicating its resources to this.

And as we go into the next hour, I'm joined by my colleague, Wolf Blitzer. I guess, Wolf, the most chilling thing out of this is to think about the fate of these children who are trapped in the bus, that our live picture was showing us.

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