Return to Transcripts main page

CNN BREAKING NEWS

Minnesota Bridge Collapse

Aired August 1, 2007 - 21:00   ET

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


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And as we go into the next hour, I am 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 were trapped in the bus that our live picture was showing us.

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": All right, I'm Wolf Blitzer.

I'm sitting in for Larry King.

This is a special edition of LARRY

KING LIVE.

We're going to continue our breaking news coverage of this horrendous tragedy that has unfolded in the City of Minneapolis in Minnesota.

These are pictures that you're seeing earlier, pictures of what occurred. A bridge, a four lane state highway across the Mississippi River in Central Minneapolis simply collapsed about two hours ago -- almost exactly two hours ago, during rush hour in Minneapolis, plunging cars and trucks into the Mississippi River, which goes through this city.

The bridge carrying perhaps as many as 200,000 cars a day. It was built some 40 years ago, back in 1967. Five hundred feet long. It's a steel-arch bridge. And for some unexplained reason, it simply went down, causing this devastation.

Mark Lacroix took these pictures for us. He's an I-Reporter.

He's joining us now on the phone.

He lives in an apartment building right overlooking this bridge.

Mark, first of all, tell our viewers what you can see right now from outside your window.

MARK LACROIX, WITNESSED MINNEAPOLIS BRIDGE COLLAPSE:

Well, the scene has quieted down quite a bit since the incident -- since I took the photos, since the news footage that you're showing your viewers. There are still a number of cars on the road. They have since been evacuated. I have not left my apartment, so I can't give you any further information as to, you know, really what's happening on the scene. But I hope and I assume that everybody has been cleared from that area.

But they're still trying to douse that car that caught on fire that was mentioned earlier. But there's still fire trucks on the scene, still police on the scene, of course; ambulances, as well, although there are fewer ambulances than there were -- than maybe, say, an hour ago which I can only take as a good sign.

BLITZER: All right.

What we're also seeing are victims who are being rescued, those who managed to get out of their cars and off this bridge. You can see these pictures courtesy of our affiliate in Minneapolis, KARE. They're working overtime out there right now to bring us these pictures, to give us the latest information on what's going on.

Mark, stand by.

Another eyewitness to what occurred is Joe Costello.

He's joining us on the phone.

Where were you, Joe, when you saw and heard these devastating sounds?

JOE COSTELLO, WITNESSED MINNEAPOLIS BRIDGE COLLAPSE: I was beginning my nightly walk after work. There's a pedestrian bridge about a quarter mile west of that bridge, called the Stone Arch Bridge, which is pedestrian only.

And I was crossing that when -- there was no loud explosion or anything. From the south end I saw a light colored, like a sand colored area of smoke shoot straight up in the air, really fast, probably at least 100 to 200 feet in the air. And the bridge collapsed south to north in about three sections.

So it went south, center and then the north end.

BLITZER: About how far away from the bridge were you when all of this happened?

COSTELLO: I was about a quarter of a mile. The Stone Arch is about a quarter of mile from that 35-W Bridge.

BLITZER: And so you first heard the sound and then you saw the -- saw this devastation.

What was it like?

Describe what you saw from your vantage point.

COSTELLO: There was a few of us on the bridge. It wasn't very crowded and it was extremely quiet. There was a very eerie silence right after. And at first, my initial reaction was no big deal because it took literally five to 10 minutes before I heard any sort of sirens or commotion. It was very quiet. There was no movement on the other bridge behind it. And because there's construction going on, we were a little bit confused if there may have been demolition. Obviously, that was not the case. But there was some confusion.

There's several bridges in that area and so there was slight confusion in terms of which bridge it was that went down. It was only when I got closer that I noticed that it was, obviously, both the north and southbound lanes of 35-W.

BLITZER: Did you see people stranded in the water, cars that had plunged into the water?

COSTELLO: I was in the north and there's a section that's buckled there that blocked the view of the water from the north end. So I could not see the water. I could see people that were on that north end who had been in climbing out through their sun roofs. And there was a couple of crumpled cars that police then walked by, looked into the window and just kept walking. So either the person was deceased -- and I did speak to a policeman walking across the bridge about 15 minutes ago. He himself had been down there and said he saw seven dead bodies himself inside cars. And he was (INAUDIBLE) area.

BLITZER: Joe, where are you right now?

COSTELLO: I am on the northwest side, near the apartment complex and the rail cars.

BLITZER: And what do you see?

Set the scene for us on your own eyewitness account.

COSTELLO: Right now there's -- I mean, as you can imagine, there's thousands of people who have come down here. We are just finally now being pushed back from the scene even further. Initially, I was able to get right next to the freeway. And then the firemen who first came there told us there's power lines down, as well.

But just now, we are getting pushed back from that area.

There are -- I'm behind the line of about six ambulances that are standing idle now, just waiting to be called.

BLITZER: And do you see rescue operations underway in the Mississippi River?

COSTELLO: I don't. I mean they pushed the whole scene out. I tried the south end, as well, and they've pushed everybody back from there.

But there's a...

BLITZER: And...

COSTELLO: There's a storm moving in. There was thunder and lightning in the area. And the... BLITZER: It looks like the weather -- the weather forecast suggests a lot of rain is about to fall in this area.

COSTELLO: It's starting to fall on me right now.

BLITZER: It is?

And that's going to, obviously, complicate any rescue operations that may still be underway.

COSTELLO: Right.

BLITZER: This all occurred exactly...

COSTELLO: And there is lightning in the area, as well.

BLITZER: ...two -- it happened almost exactly two hours ago.

During the end of Minneapolis' rush hour, all of a sudden this span, this bridge over the Mississippi River, simply collapsed. And there's been no explanation.

We are told, Joe -- and Joe Costello is joining us on the phone, as is Mark Lacroix.

And, Mark, I'm going to get back to you in a moment.

Mark took some amazing I-Report pictures for us.

Joe, we're told there had been some serious construction going on on this bridge for some time.

Do you know anything about that?

COSTELLO: Yes. There -- there's been construction not only on that bridge, but on the stretch of 35-W north of that, as well, for a mile north of there, as well. And over the past month or so, they've actually had the entire -- the entire 35-W shut down over the weekend for a couple of the weekends in the past month-and-a-half.

So it was not just the bridge. And the sections that I had traveled over, isms like they were just doing surfacing work, nothing underneath to the actual structure of the bridge.

BLITZER: I'm going to ask Joe Costello, an eyewitness to what happened, to stand by.

Mark, give me a thought right now, because I want to put up some of the images, some of the pictures you sent to CNN.com through I- Report, because -- here they are.

These are pictures, Mark, that you took from your apartment window, is that right?

LACROIX: That's right.

BLITZER: And as you saw this, what was going through your mind?

LACROIX: Well, I didn't quite believe it at first, you know what I mean?

I didn't see the bridge fall. I saw the last moments of it. So when I finally looked out the window wondering what this crazy noise was, it did take quite a while for me to register, you know, what had happened.

I -- and as I sort of examined it, I took pictures because none of the news stations, the local news stations -- CNN hadn't picked it up yet. So I wanted to, you know, make sure something happened, because I had tried dialing 911 and the number was busy, which I can only assume meant I wasn't the first person to call.

But, you know, I -- I didn't believe it. And even when I took those pictures knowing that it was a tragedy, I didn't believe it. And I can still hardly believe it right now.

BLITZER: Stand by for a moment, Mark.

Mark has taken these pictures for us.

Now we're going back to our affiliates to get these pictures.

This is from WCCO in Minneapolis.

You can see these automobiles clinging to the wreckage of this bridge that simply collapsed. Two people who really know a lot about Minneapolis are the two U.S. senators from Minnesota, Amy Klobuchar and Norm Coleman, who are both standing by. They're both here in Washington.

Norm Coleman, let me start with you.

You're familiar with this bridge.

How important is this bridge to the City of Minneapolis?

SEN. NORMAN COLEMAN (R), MINNESOTA: Well, it's important because it's a link. 35-W is a major freeway.

I was just in conversation with the secretary of transportation. Senator Klobuchar and I will be traveling early tomorrow morning with the secretary of transportation.

Obviously, Wolf, the emergency response is the first priority. And our hearts and prayers go out to all those who have been impacted.

We do have to do a couple of other things right away. One is to set up a transportation system. The secretary will be on the scene personally overseeing that piece.

And then we've to do a full forensic analysis. We have to figure out why this happened, how it happened. This bridge was inspected three years ago. The construction work that was being done, it was surface work. I talked to the governor a little while ago.

And so we have to figure out why.

Again, first is the emergency response. We will deal with. But then there are other issues that have to be dealt with quickly.

BLITZER: What about the cause, the potential cause?

Are they suggesting -- are they ruling out certain things, for example, like terrorism?

COLEMAN: Well, Secretary Chertoff -- I mean Secretary Chernoff has issued a statement saying they have no indication at all that there was terrorism. So that's the -- it's what we get from Homeland Security.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: Wolf, this bridge is actually about a mile from my house. And there's been construction in the area. Of course, we have no idea what actually caused this. But exits have been closed off. There's been a lot of construction. And this happened at the busiest time, in rush hour. There's often cars on that bridge. It's right in the center of downtown, as you can see, right near the University of Minnesota/Minneapolis, going over the beautiful Mississippi River.

And this is just truly a tragedy, as you see the school bus just hanging on the edge of the road.

BLITZER: And Senator Klobuchar, this bridge -- correct me if I'm wrong -- only serviced automobiles and trucks.

There were no trains that used this bridge, is that right?

KLOBUCHAR: As far as I know. And, again, we're just -- we're just getting the news and all of the cell phones have been using -- we're asking people not to use 621651 if they can.

But as far as we know, that piece of the bridge, it's cars, automobiles. There is no kind of a subway system or any type of a train going on that part of the bridge.

BLITZER: Norm Coleman, as you look at this -- because, you know, I've covered a lot of stories -- this is pretty horrendous, a bridge that services about 200,000 vehicles a day going down like this, a 40- year-old bridge.

You say it was examined, inspected three years ago. And I assume it was given a clean bill of health, although there, by all accounts there's been a lot of construction going on recently.

COLEMAN: Right. And, Wolf, we do construction in Minnesota in the summertime. This was surface -- trans-surface construction. We do that all the time in Minnesota. That would not be unusual. I understand from my conversation with the governor that this bridge was inspected three years ago. It was given a clean bill of health.

Obviously, we will do this full forensic analysis, is what the secretary of transportation has talked about, and get to the root.

This is incomprehensible, Wolf. This is absolutely incomprehensible.

And both Senator Klobuchar and I, you know, we were sitting beforehand to sort this out. We will -- we will find out. It may take us a while.

But the construction work was surface construction. The bridge got a clean bill of health three years ago. And obviously something terribly wrong happened.

KLOBUCHAR: I also note that it's right near a number of hospitals -- Hennepin County Medical Center. Law enforcement has planned for these kinds of emergencies. But no one could ever think a bridge of this magnitude, lanes and lanes of traffic, would just suddenly go down on an August day in the middle of the summer.

BLITZER: Senator Klobuchar and Senator Coleman, I'm going ask both of you to stand by because Nancy Ebert is joining us on the phone right now.

She's the director over at the Abbott Northwest Hospital in Minneapolis, who can give us an update on casualties, people coming in with injuries.

What can you tell us?

NANCY EBERT, ABBOTT NORTHWESTERN HOSPITAL SPOKESWOMAN: Abbott Northwestern has seen four patients right now. We have two children and two adults. We have a girl who is in fair condition, a boy who is in good condition and two adult women who are in fair condition. We're in the process of transferring the two children to children's hospitals and clinics, which sit right next to Abbott Northwestern.

BLITZER: Do you know, Miss. Ebert, if these individuals, these four people, two children, two adult women, were rescued from on top of the bridge or were they rescued from the Mississippi River?

EBERT: I'm sorry, I don't know. I only know that they are in our emergency department.

BLITZER: And are there other hospitals in the area that are receiving injured people as well?

EBERT: Yes, there are. The Hennepin County Medical Center, which is down the street from us, has received a number of them, I know.

BLITZER: Do you know how many?

EBERT: No, I'm sorry, I don't.

BLITZER: So these would be the only two hospitals? Or are there yet others that are servicing this crisis?

EBERT: There are quite a few hospitals in the Twin Cities. I don't -- I couldn't speculate as to whether the other hospitals are receiving them. Given the size of the number of people they guess that are on the bridge, I wouldn't be surprised if other hospitals were also receiving them.

BLITZER: All right.

I want to just thank you very much, Nancy Ebert.

We'll stay in touch with you.

I also want to welcome our international viewers, who are joining our breaking news coverage on CNN International.

The situation clearly remains in a crisis mode in Minneapolis. It's a major city obviously.

Senators Klobuchar and Coleman, the two U.S. senators from Minnesota, are watching all of this with us, as well.

I want to go to our affiliate coverage for a moment because we're getting an update.

Let me listen in -- and all of us will listen in to our affiliate, KARE.

QUESTION: Drowning.

DR. JOSEPH CLINTON, MEDICAL DIRECTOR, HENNEPIN COUNTY MEDICAL CENTER: Drowning. And there may be more at the scene. I don't have information on the scene.

QUESTION: Age, gender of the victim?

CLINTON: I don't have that either, sorry.

QUESTION: Can you tell us a little bit about how it works when patients are brought here. I mean (INAUDIBLE)...

CLINTON: We have a very well developed disaster response team, which we have drills on periodically through the year. But basically we set up a triage center and then we sort. We have a physician and nurse team at that center.

QUESTION: You call in...

CLINTON: We call in personnel from the hospital of all types, people that transport patients, nurses, doctors, administrative people to help with the logistics, security to help with security type issues and locking down the perimeter. And then we sort patients into those who are critically ill, those who are not critically ill but ill and have injuries requiring intervention originally, and those who are what we call the walking wounded, those with minor injuries.

QUESTION: Have you been told what to expect?

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Have you been told what to expect for the rest of the night?

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) the rest of the night?

CLINTON: The question is have I been told what to expect for the rest of the night?

And, no, we don't know what to expect, except that typically in a disaster situation like this, it will be patients who find their own transportation to the hospital. They may go to any hospitals, as any of you might if you were at a situation like this and you could get out of there, you would find your own way.

So we expect patients to be trickling in, but those would fall -- typically would fall in the walking wounded category.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Are they critically injured?

Are they children? Are they adults, the six who are critically injured?

CLINTON: We have -- the ones that came here were largely adults. I'm told there were six children that went to North Side hospitals from the north side of the bridge.

QUESTION: Can you...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ...could you describe the scene (INAUDIBLE)...

CLINTON: In the hospital?

QUESTION: Yes.

CLINTON: The scene in the hospital is very well controlled. We have a command center on the second story of the hospital with good communication with the emergency department. We have physician leaders in each of the three areas of the emergency department. Nursing tasks have all been assigned in advance for this type of situation, so we keep track of patients very carefully and resources very carefully.

We have a personnel pool on the second floor so that they don't all congregate in the emergency department, and communication back and forth so that we get the help that we need.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Have you notified the family of the person who died?

Are they aware that that person died?

CLINTON: I don't have that information. We have a family center set up.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Based on what you've seen (INAUDIBLE) damage, at this point, after what happened, did you expect it to be more crowded at the hospital?

Or is this what you expected?

CLINTON: I think this is -- it's unknown what would happen when how many people who were on the bridge or how bad the falls were. So we had no idea how many patients we would get.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: And how about drowning victims or people in the water?

Have you been told to prepare for any of that type of stuff?

CLINTON: Well, we have one drowning victim here and I believe there are more drowning victims at the scene who...

QUESTION: Doctor, have you ever seen anything like this before? (INAUDIBLE)

CLINTON: I've never been in a bridge collapse before. We have -- one of our faculty was at Kansas City at the Hyatt collapse and says that this is very similar to what happened there.

QUESTION: Do you know at any point in the night whether it gets to 9:00, 10:00, 11:00, do you expect people to just keep coming in through the night or do you get to a point when you realize that probably (INAUDIBLE)...

CLINTON: I think we'll reach a point, and we're probably rapidly reaching a point where we've seen the most seriously ill patients.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) person who died, (INAUDIBLE)?

CLINTON: I don't have a lot of details on that because I wasn't involved in the care of that patient. But I believe that patient probably did not have vital signs when they arrived and they were pronounced here, although I'm not sure of that.

(CROSSTALK)

CLINTON: I think we had an outstanding response of our emergency medical services -- from public safety, fire, police, paramedics, the various paramedics services in town. We have medical directors in emergency medicine that responded from North Memorial, from ACMC, from Wakonia and from elsewhere around.

So it's a well organized system that we have drilled many times and it seems to have worked very well.

QUESTION: Has there been anything (INAUDIBLE) from your efforts at all?

CLINTON: No, not really. I mean in any disaster situation, the two biggest problems we have are communication and transportation.

Our transportation has worked very well. Communication is always a problem as you know, trying to get information about this. It is very difficult. The people at the scene are too difficult to transmit repeated information. So the necessary information is transmitted and the details will follow and you'll probably be reporting more of the details than we have right now.

QUESTION: What -- what sets apart the critical injuries from the non-criticals?

What is it about them?

CLINTON: A critically injured patient is a patient who has a life threat to one of their body systems -- either breathing or their heart or blood pressure or they're in shock, that type of thing.

QUESTION: What have you heard about these, though, that make them critical?

Do you know?

CLINTON: These patients are critical because of potential disruption to major organ systems -- chest injuries, head injuries.

QUESTION: How are you dealing with communicating with families and getting the word out to (INAUDIBLE)?

CLINTON: We have a system in place for that, but that's not my -- that's not my charge. We have other people in charge of that and they have organized the...

(CROSSTALK)

CLINTON: The children have not -- I'm not sure how many children. I saw one child here. I believe most of the children were sent elsewhere.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE).

CLINTON: I don't know. I don't have information on parents, whether parents were separated from their children or not. I don't have that information.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE).

CLINTON: We have -- we've had plenty of -- we've had an outstanding response and we have all the people we need right now.

QUESTION: How many doctors, paramedics and nurses would you say are involved in the whole operation, roughly?

CLINTON: Well, that's a guess. We have -- that would be a guess. Hundreds of paramedics from around the Twin Cities. We have 100 paramedics here. Our nurses have all been alerted. A hundred are in the emergency department -- nurses from the critical care units. Our whole medical staff was notified. We have 25 emergency physicians, a similar number of surgeons. We have internists and other -- and pediatricians and other specialties that have responded.

The blood bank has responded. Our pathology director for the blood bank is here. We've had an outstanding broad response from the medical staff and the nursing staff.

QUESTION: Quickly, how quickly were you on scene? (INAUDIBLE)?

CLINTON: How quickly was I on the scene?

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)?

CLINTON: Well, we have an -- of course, we have an emergency response team here all the time. And by the time the first patients got here, we had extra people -- many extra people here. So it was an immediate response. I knew about this before it was reported on the TVs, which you knew pretty quickly.

QUESTION: Are you telling people that need to use the hospital to go somewhere else?

CLINTON: We told the people who are in the waiting room that if they didn't need immediate care, they should leave and come back later.

QUESTION: Would you run the numbers by us one more time.

CLINTON: The number I have is that we have 22 yellow -- which means they have life or -- they have limb injury or -- but not immediately life-threatening. We had six critical patients and one patient died.

QUESTION: And the death was because of drowning?

CLINTON: We believe it was drowning. That's what I told.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE).

CLINTON: It has slowed down now from -- initially we took -- at this hospital we were taking only critical trauma. Once we were sure that we had taken care of the critical trauma, we're taking any patients who they want to send to us.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE).

CLINTON: At the hospital, we are -- our physician and nursing teams and we have administrative teams who came in, scoured the hospital for available beds, moved patients out from critical care areas if they could be moved and freed up several beds for patients -- enough that we had plenty of room for people at a place that's usually very, very busy.

BLITZER: All right, so there he is, Dr. Joseph Clinton, with the Hennepin County Medical Center.

An emergency unfolding in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

A disaster -- I think that's a fair word.

A major bridge, a freeway bridge going over the Mississippi River about two -- a little bit more than two hours ago, during the end of the rush hour in Minneapolis, simply collapsed.

Cars and trucks plunged -- plunged into the Mississippi River below.

Rescue operations, search and rescue operations began. We assume they are continuing.

Individuals who survived are being brought to local hospitals, as Dr. Clinton was just reporting.

We also spoke with Nancy Ebert of the Abbott Northwest Hospital, where four patients have been brought in in not such great condition -- two children, two adults.

We know that a school bus was involved in this collapse, as well. And we're told that the children aboard that school bus were basically escorted off. We don't know what condition they're in, but there you see some pictures that were sent to CNN I-Report by Mark Lacroix, who lives in an apartment building overlooking this major bridge in Minneapolis.

Mark Lacroix is on the phone with us, as well.

But I want to go to Courtney Johnson with the American Red Cross in Minneapolis.

Courtney, what can you tell us about what the Red Cross is doing and what you're seeing?

COURTNEY JOHNSON, AMERICAN RED CROSS, MINNEAPOLIS: Well, the Red Cross, just to give you an idea of where we're located, we are within a stone's throw's distance of this bridge.

So right now I'm looking out one of the windows of our offices and I can see the bridge and the collapse and the fire trucks and all that kind of thing.

As far as what we're doing right now, I believe that the children from the school bus you were speaking of were brought to our building, where we triaged them, treated the ones that we could, that had the minor injuries, and then had the others transported to the school.

There were probably about 40 kids that we saw here. And right now there's still some in the building that we're working on, getting them reunited with their families.

As far as long-term and what people are going to be doing tonight and into tomorrow, the Red Cross has volunteers here. We're getting a bunch of spontaneous volunteers. People are showing up to help us out.

We are going the president be feeding the rescue workers -- the rescue workers -- excuse me -- and the folks who are down here.

We also have a mental health stress team who is here who are mental health experts who will be here to help kind of debrief all the rescue workers and volunteers that have experienced this traumatic event.

BLITZER: And I just want to give our viewers a sense -- there's the school bus that was involved. It was going over this bridge in Minneapolis as it was going down. Obviously, a lot of school children on that bus.

There you see some of the pictures of what occurred earlier.

We're told that those schoolchildren -- and, maybe, Courtney Johnson, you can help us -- has the Red Cross dealt with some of the children who were on that specific school bus?

JOHNSON: You know, I don't know what school bus they came from. I do know that we saw a whole bunch of kids who were from a school bus. You know, so I don't know if there was more than one school bus in this instance, but we did see children from a school bus.

The Red Cross here in the Twin Cities has an EMS team as part of the things that we do in the community. So our EMS chief was actually on the bridge and he followed the children over here, was able to help treat them, as well as some of the nursing classes that we had in the building at the time and that kind of thing.

BLITZER: What a nightmare. Anybody who drives over a bridge is always a little bit worried, especially a major bridge, and people all over the country, indeed, all over the world who may be watching on CNN International right now, they certainly can relate to this, although it's shocking that in a major American city, a 40-year-old bridge, a steel bridge, simply collapses, a bridge that, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, carries about 200,000 cars a day.

This is -- this is this is something extraordinary by anyone's imagination.

Courtney Johnson, if you could stand by, from the American Red Cross.

I want to bring in an eyewitness who had crossed that bridge only moments before it collapsed, I'm told.

Gregory Wernick, are you on the phone with us?

GREGORY WERNICK, DROVE OVER BRIDGE 10 MINUTES BEFORE COLLAPSE: Yes.

How are you doing?

BLITZER: All right.

Good.

Tell us where you were, what you saw when this bridge went down.

WERNICK: I was coming down 35-W South. And I got off on Washington Avenue, which is a main thoroughfare right by the Metrodome. And I come across -- I come across the bridge to go to the parking ramp, which is by the Holiday Inn. And I park and go get a sandwich at the sandwich shop. And right when I was coming off the bridge, where I was coming off the ramp, there was a University of Minnesota cop -- a police car going the other way.

So I probably missed it by maybe two minutes.

BLITZER: You probably missed -- you missed being on the bridge...

WERNICK: I mean I was (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: Were you walking across the bridge or were you driving across the bridge?

WERNICK: No, I was driving. I was driving.

BLITZER: You were driving across the bridge?

WERNICK: I was driving in a car -- a minivan.

BLITZER: You were driving across the bridge. And tell us what it was like.

Do you remember what it was like only two minutes before the bridge collapsed, driving over this...

WERNICK: (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: I assume you've done it many times.

WERNICK: There was -- oh, yes. Many times. I work for a trucking company in town and I went to get the keys to the van. I just got -- I just got -- just got -- I was in Grand Haven, Michigan this morning, just got in to town, Minneapolis, took a shower and got the keys to the company van and came down to the Seven Corners to get something to eat, you know?

BLITZER: We're told, by the way, Gregory, that KARE, our affiliate in Minneapolis, is now reporting that at least 50 cars plunged into the Mississippi River as this bridge collapsed...

WERNICK: Oh, no.

BLITZER: ...simply went down. And I assume the search and rescue operation is continuing right now.

How many lanes are over -- are on this bridge?

WERNICK: Two lanes going each way, you know, north and southbound.

BLITZER: So it's a four lane...

WERNICK: I've (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: ...it's a four lane bridge.

And how many lanes were actually being used tonight?

WERNICK: There was construction. I think maybe like one lane going each way.

BLITZER: All right.

WERNICK: One lane on each side.

BLITZER: Yes.

WERNICK: Because of construction. There was heavy traffic. I come off Hennepin and then I come down here to Seven Corners. It's about two miles and it took me probably 10 minutes to get down here.

BLITZER: And did it -- and as you were going over the bridge only a couple moments before it actually collapsed, was the traffic moving normally over that bridge or were you at a crawl?

WERNICK: It was -- it was going very slow because of construction.

BLITZER: Because of the construction.

WERNICK: Very slow.

What kind of construction were they doing there?

WERNICK: They were just working on the bridge. I mean, I don't know, just regular bridge construction, I guess. They were working on top of the bridge. And at my viewpoint, when I was standing on the University of Minnesota medical building, the parking ramp there, you can see an older Ford blue minivan, that person just cheated death, too. I mean they probably just came right off of there. And there was -- the news media was interviewing somebody else that she had just got across the bridge when it went down.

BLITZER: All right. Now, Gregory, I want you, if you can stay with us, because I want to come back to you and get some more of your eyewitness account of what you saw and heard.

There's a reporter Dave Peters who is joining us now on the phone. Dave, can you hear me?

DAVE PETERS, NEWS EDITOR, INTERNET BROADCASTING: Yes, I can.

BLITZER: All right. Tell us what you are seeing, what you saw, what do you know about what -- because you've been doing some extensive reporting on this. It's been about two and a half hours since this major bridge in Minneapolis simply collapsed.

PETERS: Well, Wolf, right now I'm standing on Stone Arch Bridge which is an historic restored railroad bridge about a half mile up river from where the bridge collapsed. And I'm looking down river past the two lochs here and once a busy, big freeway bridge there's absolutely nothing. You see ambulances and fire trucks crawling on a bridge that was on the other side or was on the other side still standing, and lots of -- hundreds, maybe thousands of people standing here on this bridge and in the neighborhood, ambulances, some -- lots of emergency vehicles, somewhat -- all detached. It's in a -- it's right in the heart of old Minneapolis.

BLITZER: This river, the Mississippi River at this point underneath this bridge, is this a very deep river at that point? What can you tell us about the river?

PETERS: Yes. The Mississippi River is right below the St. Anthony Falls less than a mile. It's a big river. It's not like New Orleans, but it's a big, broad river, biggest river in Minnesota. Lots of water here and there are two lochs, a set of lochs that this bridge is right below on the Mississippi.

Downtown Minneapolis is on one side of the river, the brand new Guthrie and the skyline and on the other side is the residential area near the University of Minnesota.

BLITZER: Which is familiar to a lot of people who have been to the Twin Cities. Our affiliate there KARE is telling us at least 50 cars have plunged into the Mississippi River. Do you see search and rescue operations, Dave, under way right now?

PETERS: From where I'm standing, I can't see search and rescue, but there are emergency vehicles crawling all over on both sides of the river.

BLITZER: What about in the river? Do you see boats in the river?

PETERS: Yes, I can, yes. There are boats and there are a number -- a lot of boats being pulled by emergency vehicles as I was walking to the bridge.

BLITZER: And people are just gathering and they're watching, I assume, in shock as this story continues to unfold.

PETERS: Yes. There are hundreds of people on this bridge. I live about two blocks from here. My wife had walked under the freeway bridge about an hour before it collapsed so she's thankful and a little bit traumatized. But it's a huge spectacle here.

BLITZER: Is there a pedestrian walkway across this bridge as well?

PETERS: No. It's a freeway bridge. It's very busy. It's 55 miles an hour, heavily traveled. I think it may be the most heavily traveled bridge in Minnesota or on the Mississippi.

BLITZER: All right, Dave, stand by for a moment if you don't mind. There's another eyewitness who is joining us here and I just want to tell our viewers that I'm Wolf Blitzer. I'm sitting in for Larry King. We're continuing the breaking news coverage of a crisis that has developed in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where a major bridge has simply, simply collapsed. At least 50 cars, according to our affiliate plunging into the Mississippi River. There are casualties. They are, unfortunately, people have died in this as well.

Janet Stanley is joining us on the phone.

Janet, you saw what happened about two and a half hours or so ago?

JANET STATELY, EYEWITNESS: Yes, sir, I did.

BLITZER: Tell us what you saw and heard.

STATELY: And you just said my name incorrectly. It's Stately.

BLITZER: Stately. I'm sorry, Janet.

STATELY: That's OK. My daughter and I were coming back from Duluth and the traffic was so bad that I made a decision to turn from -- away from the 35W Bridge because it was just sitting. There was -- traffic was not moving in my opinion at all.

BLITZER: And this is the 35W Bridge we're talking about.

STATELY: That's on the 35W Bridge, the one that collapsed.

BLITZER: Go ahead.

STATELY: And about a quarter of a mile I'm guessing there's another bridge and that speed limit is 30 miles an hour. The one on the 35W is 55 and it wasn't moving. And I wanted to get home. And I heard -- I'm so confused still that I can't tell you the correct order of things but I heard a horrible noise and then I looked and it seemed like a piece of the bridge was pancaking and going down. And I don't know the order, but -- then there was another section and it sort of went down into a "v" and all the cars were going straight down towards the water like they were little tiny, you know, toy cars.

And then there was -- I don't know if it was splashing or it appeared to be a cloud of dust that was clearly dust. Some may have been smoke. I started screaming. My daughter grabbed her cell phone and mine and tried to call 911. We couldn't get through. I got to the end of the bridge that I was on and she wanted me to turn and go down there and try to help but I knew we couldn't do that and you know would be in the way.

So we went to what amounts to less than a mile to my house. She told my son what happened. They went running back there. And they were actually down underneath part of the bridge there, near the 10th Street Bridge which we call -- the bridge that I was driving on. And they saw a lot of carnage and all kinds of horrible things down there. And they were just telling me about it when you called. And I'm watching the local news accounts, flipping back and forth, and I cannot believe it. I cannot believe it.

BLITZER: I don't think anyone can believe it. I've been covering these kinds of stories for a long time. I've never seen anything like this myself. And it's a nightmare for everyone who goes over a bridge, over any river in any city, not only in the United States or Canada but around the world, that you're going over a bridge, you're driving, you think you're safe and all of a sudden the bridge collapses. And in this particular case cars, as you point out...

STATELY: Actually, my daughter...

BLITZER: Go ahead, Janet.

STATELY: ...said, "Did we really see that?" I said, "Did we really see that." It was that unbelievable. And she was screaming and crying. And I don't even know what to tell you about this.

BLITZER: And as you saw the bridge -- as you saw the bridge, Janet, buckle, that's the word that's often been described in this particular case, just buckle and just went down, is that what happened?

STATELY: The section that was eye level to me as I'm still trying to drive was the section I saw the most clearly, I believe, or that I remember the most clearly because all the cars were just like rolling down into that "v" no matter which direction they were going. There's four lanes of traffic. They were going in opposite directions right at the worst time of day for traffic. And, you know, in Minnesota we have winter and road construction and there was road construction going on on that bridge.

But I don't know what they were doing but there were a couple of lanes that you had to merge to get into. So I just opted to stay off that bridge.

BLITZER: You were very lucky indeed, and you've got to thank your lucky stars for that. Janet, I want to just bring in for a moment, Janet, don't leave, Joe Costello the other eyewitness. We've been speaking with him.

Joe, your eyewitness account seems to match pretty much what we just heard from Janet, is that right? COSTELLO: Yes, it does. Again, I saw -- it was not a very loud noise. I was about a quarter mile away west of it. Again, a puff of smoke, kind of a sand-colored smoke shoots straight up in the air, about 100, 200 feet in the air very fast. The bridge collapsed south to north and from what I estimate to be about three sections with the north part of course going last without any smoke at all.

And there was some smoke not a lot after it collapsed. It collapsed on a part of the river that there's a section of lochs here because the Mississippi River descends in altitude, so they built a series of lochs to allow boats to go down. And so the crash just east of the one loch and so there is a fall -- like a waterfall there as well. So hopefully nobody got pushed down river either in any of this.

BLITZER: And Joe, just to be precise for viewers who are just tuning in, this is a bridge, it's called bridge -- the 35W Bridge, is that right?

COSTELLO: Correct.

BLITZER: And is this -- this is a state bridge? It's not an interstate or is it interstate?

COSTELLO: It's Interstate 35 that runs from Minnesota all the way down to Texas.

BLITZER: So it is an interstate. It's an interstate bridge. So this -- it's fair to say this is the major bridge in Minneapolis, is that right?

COSTELLO: It is -- it's an artery that serves the northeast quadrant of the metropolitan area. So I mean 25 percent of the city uses this at a minimum on any given day.

BLITZER: And anywhere between 100,000 -- anywhere between 100,000 and 200,000 vehicles a day cross this bridge.

(CROSSTALK)

COSTELLO: There's probably might have been more. There's a Twins game starting about an hour after the bridge collapsed at the Metrodome which is no more than a mile from the bridge, very close. There's a baseball game beginning as well. So both the southbound, which may have been less traveled during rush hour may have been heavier because of the baseball game.

BLITZER: And the Minnesota Twins game we're told is continuing, one reason being they don't want a lot of people -- a lot of fans to get in their cars and leave right now. This is not a good time to be driving in that vicinity. That stadium, how far away, Joe, is that stadium from the bridge?

COSTELLO: In my estimation -- and right across the street from the stadium is Hennepin County Medical Center. That should be noted as well. But the stadium, my estimation, is approximately no more than a mile.

BLITZER: A mile away. So a lot of fans would be using under normal circumstances that bridge. Stand by Joe.

Jim McDonald is joining us as well. He's another eyewitness. Jim, tell us what you saw.

JIM MCDONALD, EYEWITNESS: I'm in the high rise building, Riverview John (ph), that overlooks the river and the bridge right outside. And I was just doing a little work on a late afternoon and I looked out, looking at traffic wondering whether there was some weather coming in based on the predictions, and all of a sudden everything started to go down. I saw a couple cars rear end one another and then I saw the sections of the bridge that started to go down in different sections. And I thought my building started to shake. I thought we were in an earthquake that I was a little worried about it myself being in a high rise and to get out of the building as I saw everything starting to go down.

BLITZER: And how many chunks of this interstate bridge did you see collapse? And there we see that horrible break, the collapse of that bridge. How many parts of that bridge are there right now?

MCDONALD: There are probably -- it looks like there's about eight -- seven to eight different sections that had crumbled down and snapped apart from one another, the most recognizable one being on the north side of the river that had snapped back and up kind of like almost like folding a piece of paper in half.

BLITZER: It's amazing that a bridge could simply go down like this. And structural engineers are going to be looking at this to try to determine what could cause this kind of collapse. And we know there's been construction atop the bridge. But correct me if I'm wrong, Jim, based on what you've known about this bridge and you live right there, your apartment overlooks the bridge. The construction was atop the bridge not underneath.

MCDONALD: Correct. It was just a resurfacing of the bridge during the wintertime. So you see with the winters up here, there's a lot of salt and there's a lot of -- basically a lot of salt so obviously in the summertime to get a little resurfacing done there.

But I noticed most of the structure that you see where you can see underneath the bridge is a green steel structure. I go underneath there quite a bit there because the river roads --there's running paths and a river road down through there. And you can you just see the steel, you know. I'm just an observer but it never really looked like it was too safe. But during all the construction there was definitely no work being done on the structural. It was only the surface.

BLITZER: Only surface and only one lane each direction was being used so you can't say that the bridge was dealing with an abundance of heavy lifting, if you will, a lot of cars, if only one lane was being used in each direction, is that right, Jim?

MCDONALD: Actually there was -- at the time of the accident or the time of the collapse there were two lanes used in each direction.

BLITZER: There was. So the construction had stopped, is that what you're saying?

MCDONALD: For the evening there was no construction going on at that time at 6:00, no.

BLITZER: All right. And take a look at this. I want to -- point out to our viewers what they are seeing. These are the latest images that have come in to CNN iReport from viewers out there, from individuals who are just sending us their pictures. And look at this, look at how this collapsed bridge has unfolded. And here you see some more of this awesome devastation.

This is a bridge, just to recap, that's about 500 feet long. It was built back in 1967. It's a 40-year-old bridge. It spans the Mississippi River at about 64 feet above the river. So this is -- this is a major, major interstate in Minneapolis. The Minnesota Department of Transportation saying it carries anywhere from 100,000 to 200,000 cars a day. So this is -- this is by no means just a modest little bridge.

Nancy Fox is joining us. She's a reporter out there. You cover this area. Nancy, tell us what you're seeing right now.

NANCY FOX, KSTP REPORTER: Well, darkness is starting to fall which will certainly perhaps hamper some of the rescue efforts. But what I'm seeing truly looks like it would have been part of an earthquake, the way the bridge collapsed, the way the metal supports just twisted and bent, and the way the concrete almost accordioned on ton of other sections of concrete.

BLITZER: And Nancy Fox is with KSTP.

I want to tell our viewers as well we're standing by for a news conference which we will share with you. We will bring you here on this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE. We're watching this breaking story.

Nancy Fox, does it look like there's a lot of search and rescue operations under way in the Mississippi River because we're told dozens of cars simply were hurled from this bridge as it collapsed.

FOX: You know it does look like there are several boats in the river. It's difficult for me to determine if those are sheriff's deputies or if perhaps just some civilians with boats joined in that search and rescue effort.

BLITZER: Nancy, stand by for a moment.

Kristi Rollwagen is joining us from the Emergency Preparedness Division over at the City of Minneapolis.

Kristi, give us the latest information that's coming into your operation. KRISTI ROLLWAGEN, MPLS. DIR. EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS: Well, we're currently working on trying to get the cars out of the river at this point and assess how many more people that we are looking at for either treatment or transport, looking at transitioning into a recovery effort.

BLITZER: How many cars have you actually counted already that were plunged into the Mississippi?

ROLLWAGEN: We don't have a count on that yet. We have a number of dive teams that are down in the river right now trying to account for how many are down there.

BLITZER: How many dive teams do you have down there?

ROLLWAGEN: Wolf, I'm sorry, could you repeat that question?

BLITZER: How many dive teams are in the Mississippi right now searching for survivors?

ROLLWAGEN: We have about half a dozen dive teams on scene.

BLITZER: And it's obviously getting dark right now so it's going to make that operation so much more difficult and complex, is that right?

ROLLWAGEN: Well, we do have weather coming in and we have a baseball game that's about to be over here in the next hour. So there's some underlying issues that we're dealing with at the same time.

BLITZER: You've got your hands full over there. What about the rescue operation on parts of the bridge that simply collapsed? Has everyone been removed? Has everyone been taken from atop the bridge?

ROLLWAGEN: Part of the bridge that was structurally safer -- at the moment structurally safer, our rescue crews are on. We have been able to confirm that everybody has been removed from those vehicles. But there's a part of the bridge that we can't get to yet and so they're still working on trying to get some (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on scene and as well some heavy machineries, some gold-mounted cranes to get in here and help us lift sections of those (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and make...

BLITZER: Do you know, Kristi, whether or not there are individuals on that part of the bridge that structurally is impossible to get to right now?

ROLLWAGEN: I don't know for a fact.

BLITZER: But this is going to go on for some time. Is anyone giving you at all, Kristi, any kind of explanation how a major interstate like this, an interstate bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota, can simply collapse?

ROLLWAGEN: I haven't had any information about that.

BLITZER: It just buckled.

ROLLWAGEN: People are concentrating on the recovery efforts right now. So...

BLITZER: All right, well, good luck, Kristi. Kristi Rollwagen is with Emergency Preparedness with the City of Minneapolis. And God knows they certainly have their hands full right now dealing with this crisis.

This is a horrendous, horrendous situation that has unfolded, and people are going to be watching this as much as we possibly -- people are going to be watching this very, very closely for lessons learned to make sure this doesn't happen anyplace else.

Nancy Fox is a reporter who is watching all of this from KSTP. Nancy, give us a sense of the enormity of what we're seeing.

FOX: It's really hard for me to put into words the section of bridge that collapsed was, I don't know, maybe about 500 feet long. And as I'm watching helicopter scenes right now, I'm still seeing some smoke billowing out. I don't know if that may be from previous car fires because there were several vehicles that caught on fire. But then again it's getting very near dark and it's becoming more difficult to actually see the scene of the accident.

BLITZER: And that's going to make the emergency search and rescue operation obviously so much more difficult as it gets darker not only atop the bridge at least what remains of that concrete, that steel, the slab that simply collapsed, as one eyewitness told us like an accordion going down over the Mississippi, but it's going to be very complex in terms of getting those people who are still alive to some sort of shelter or to a hospital.

Dave Peters is there. He's another reporter watching all of this. What are you seeing right now, Dave?

PETERS: It's starting to get a little bit darker so it's going to get a little bit harder to see things. There's a helicopter hovering over the scene of the wreck. There's still lots of emergency vehicles on the bridge or on the nearby bridge, the 10th Street Bridge and on both sides of the river; still lots and lots of people looking, calling on their cell phones, taking pictures with their cell phones. It's a huge disaster and spectacle here.

BLITZER: We were told, Dave, that -- by Kristi Rollwagen of the Emergency Preparedness Division of the City of Minneapolis that there's a chunk or more of that bridge that seems structurally unsound right now and rescue operations can't go there because obviously they don't want the rescue workers to collapse either. But from your vantage point do you see any individuals atop the bridge where there may not be an opportunity to get to them yet?

PETERS: I can't see -- I can see a pile of rubble it looks like right below the lower dock, the lower falls, and that might be what she's talking about. The police are clearing this bridge that I'm standing on so they're trying to get people away from the scene a little bit more.

BLITZER: And -- but are you seeing any helicopters or choppers hovering over what remains of 35W, this interstate bridge, trying to find individuals?

PETERS: I've seen them hovering over. Right now there's nothing over the scene right now that's looking down close. There have been earlier, but right now, no.

BLITZER: All right.

I want to go to another eyewitness that's joining us now, Dan Berdal.

Dan, tell us where you were, what you saw when this bridge collapsed.

DAN BERDAL, EYEWITNESS: Well, I was actually at home when the bridge actually fell. So I got a call from one of my roommates and so I jumped on my bike and headed down there. So I was down there about 15 minutes after the bridge fell and got right underneath -- right next to the bridge, and there was a bunch of fan boats from the fire department. They were going up to the bridge and hauling people off, bringing them to shore.

BLITZER: And did you see a lot of people who were rescued?

BERDAL: While I was down there, they probably about 30 people off over to the section of shore that I was at.

BLITZER: And were they in good shape, in bad shape? How did these individuals look?

BERDAL: Most or all of them were definitely really shook up. Most of them just had a few little cuts on them. There were a couple people that were on stretchers that we had to haul up to ambulances. But most of the people that I thought at least were just really shook up.

BLITZER: Did you see any people in the waters of the Mississippi River?

BERDAL: Nothing besides -- there's a lot of people in boats but nobody swimming in the water.

BLITZER: This is, by the way, a picture that Dan sent to us courtesy of CNN iReport. This picture, it shows the devastation, it shows the bridge simply collapsed into the Mississippi River.

Dan, where were you when you took this picture?

BERDAL: There's another bridge that runs parallel to 35W so I was underneath the base of that bridge about maybe 150 feet or so from where 35 fell down.

BLITZER: And you just took your camera out, snapped it and sent us a copy to CNN iReport, is that right?

BERDAL: Yes, that's right.

BLITZER: And there it is. All right, Dan, thanks very much.

Let's go back to Dave Peters who is a reporter with Internet Broadcasting who's helping us better understand what's going on. The bridge collapses as one of the eyewitnesses told us, almost like an accordion going down. The whole thing seemed to have taken what, only seconds, is that right, Dave?

PETERS: Apparently so. I mean what's amazing about it now is that there's a big bridge right next to it, the 10th Street Bridge that's still standing but this massive freeway interstate is just gone from -- it's a landmark here and it's not there.

BLITZER: You know there's an interstate bridge like this in so many cities around the United States and similar bridges around the world. And people are obviously watching this and trying to draw some lessons to make sure that if they have a 40-year-old bridge in their community that that simply doesn't collapse seemingly out of the blue.

Our affiliate KARE is watching all of this very, very closely. I wanted to briefly dip into their coverage and hear what they're saying.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And certainly many of us have lived here for a very long time and haven't seen anything like this before. So it doesn't matter if you're a witness on the scene or you're an official working the scene, it's just frankly a shocking situation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We spoke with Greg Vandergrift (ph) earlier. For those of you who saw the interview, he spoke to several young men who were able to go down to the river's edge and assist with some of the people who had been injured in that. And if you hadn't caught some of that, we have a little bit of that interview cued up for you. Listen in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Injured -- now 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were driving on the 4th Street university area heading back from my girlfriend's apartment and all of a sudden we saw a giant dust cloud appear. And at that point we had no idea what was going on and we 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 at which point we realized the magnitude of what just took place.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody knew what was going on. Construction workers -- there was no cops no, ambulances at that time. Everybody in Dinkytown was utterly confused, for sure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And your thoughts when you looked down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just, you know, it's cliche, it doesn't happen. But I mean obviously there's construction going on. I mean it makes a little bit more sense.

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

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, thank you so much, Will Farley. He...

BLITZER: All right, that's our coverage that's happening right now on KARE, one of our affiliates.

I also want to briefly dip into coverage on another station in Minneapolis, WCCO.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At 8:00 p.m., they had 22 non-critical patients in there, six critical and he said there were life- threatening injuries perhaps to the body or one of the organs in the body. And as you said one death, a drowning. Two people were taken to North Memorial and nobody that we know of is at Region.

And Dr. Clinton was saying that they have emergency response teams on both sides of that bridge, on the north side and the south side, and because they can't cross over, those on the north side are taking all of the victims to the hospitals on the north side and the victims on the south side to the hospitals on the south side. So it's going to be a while before we can get an exact count.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some of the bigger picture issues, folks, of what we're looking at. This bridge was built in 1967. And you heard Don talking to Dick Saley (ph), one of our engineering experts who gave us a number of different scenarios of what could have happened.

In that bigger picture, we're just receiving word that Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota has spoken to the secretary of transportation. This is a federal highway. It's Interstate 35W. And the transportation secretary, we're told, told Senator Coleman that this bridge, the I-35W Mississippi River crossing bridge was last inspected in 2004.

So it's a 40-year-old bridge that had an inspection, according to the federal government, three years ago if not longer, in 2004. But the bigger picture is...

BLITZER: All right, that's coverage coming in from WCCO in Minneapolis.

Norm Coleman was here on our coverage just a little while ago telling all of us that he and the other senator, Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota will both be traveling tomorrow with the secretary of transportation to Minneapolis to start what's obviously going to be a lengthy investigation to see how an interstate bridge of this magnitude can simply collapse causing the death and destruction, the pain, the heartache in a major American city. No easy answers, yes.

Jeff Pearson is at the scene for us right now with one of the bus companies. Jeff, tell us what you're doing there and what you're seeing.

JEFF PEARSON, REGIONAL V.P., FIRST STUDENT, INC.: Well, I can't actually get to the sight. I was trying to get to the Red Cross triage center to find out about the students that are on our bus. But...

BLITZER: On a school bus.

PEARSON: ...that actually took a tumble. Yes, they were.

BLITZER: All right, so tell us -- has the school bus, is it OK? Are the students OK?

PEARSON: Yes it sounds like there are some bumps and bruises. I'm not sure if there are any broken bones. There may be something like that.

BLITZER: And there we see it. This is the bus that where we're showing. It's jammed along the side of part of this collapsed bridge, 35W. Is that the bus you're affiliated with?

PEARSON: Yes, it is.

BLITZER: How many children were inside?

PEARSON: Approximately 30.

BLITZER: Thirty children plus a driver, any teachers?

PEARSON: Not that I'm aware. But there may have been some chaperons or sponsors.

BLITZER: And has everyone been accounted for?

PEARSON: Yes. According to the Red Cross, everybody that was supposed to be on the bus has been accounted for.

BLITZER: How did those people -- they just walked off the bus and then just climbed their way to the -- to the back of this Mississippi River? Is that what happened?

PEARSON: Well, I think there were some volunteers that came down and carried some kids up. I'm sure that there were some kids that were traumatized. But all in all, the bus looks pretty good. I guess if I were going to take a 75-foot fall into a river -- onto concrete, I'd want to be in a school bus.

BLITZER: Well, it's an amazing situation. And thank God those school children are OK and maybe some bumps and bruises. That's totally understandable and obviously they're scared. But Jeff Pearson, thanks for updating us on that.

And you can see on the right hand side of the screen, that's where that school bus is. It's stuck there for understandable reasons.

This is an amazing story that CNN is not going to leave. We're watching all of this very, very closely. It's approaching three hours now since this major interstate 35W in Minneapolis simply collapsed.

I'm Wolf Blitzer sitting in for Larry King. Let's go to Anderson Cooper and he's going to pick up our coverage.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com