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At Least Six People Killed in Minnesota Bridge Collapse

Aired August 1, 2007 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: To the viewers who are just joining us now at the top of the hour, we want to quickly bring you up to date on the story.
Here's what we know. The bridge carrying Interstate 35 West across the Mississippi River is now in pieces, these some of the many images we have seen over the last three hours. The section of the 35- W bridge under repair at the time now entirely gone. When it fell, at the height of rush hour, cars, trucks, a school bus were single file, bumper to bumper. Many went down with the roadway. Some landed in the water. Some crushed other cars.

A truck burst into flames. The school bus was spared. There was traffic as well beneath the bridge, a train with tank cars. Now the emergency rooms are full of trauma patients. At least three people are dead. That number may rise.

The Department of Homeland Security tonight says there is no reason to suspect terrorism. That said, a terrorist could not have created a seen more hellish than what you are witnessing right now.

We have extensive coverage, starting with 360's Randi Kaye.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just after 6:00 p.m., smack in the middle of rush hour, the Interstate 35-W bridge between Minneapolis and Saint Paul just broke apart, sending cars plunging into the water, others teetering on the edge, panicked drivers trapped inside.

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.

KAYE: Witnesses say dozens of cars were on the bridge when the center section began to crumble, then collapsed into the Mississippi River below.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just completely gave way, the whole bridge, from one side of the Mississippi to the other, just completely gave away. So, all the way down, I probably had a 30-, 35-foot freefall. And there's cars in the water. There's cars on fire. The whole bridge is down.

KAYE: The bridge fell without warning. Witnesses say a school bus loaded with children was trapped at the top.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I realized that the school bus was right next to me. And me and a couple of other guys went over and started lifting the kids off the bridge. They were yelling, screaming, bleeding. I think there was some broken bones.

KAYE: A desperate attempt to save lives before the mighty Mississippi could swallow them.

COSTELLO: I did see some get out through their sunroofs and check on others. 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.

KAYE: Rescue boats worked the water. Those on the riverbank also pulled people to safety, battling the mangled concrete and twisted metal to save strangers.

The fire department stayed busy, trying to put out a tractor- trailer fight. The Minnesota Department of Transportation says the 35-W bridge has been under construction since the beginning of summer. It had been shut down overnight, but reopened for daytime traffic. Road crews were repairing potholes and resurfacing the bridge. Still unclear if that caused this.


COOPER: It is now getting dark at the scene, which obviously adds to the difficulty for rescue workers who are still on the scene. There are divers in the water, police, firefighters, all manner of rescue workers on the scene.

With us now is Dave Ernewein. He is the operations manager at local radio station KTNF. He drove through the area of disaster on his way to work.

Dave, what did you see?

DAVE ERNEWEIN, KTNF OPERATIONS MANAGER: It was just real reminiscent of New York after 9/11.

There were emergency vehicles going every which direction downtown Minneapolis, sirens everywhere, people running everywhere. And the bridge that collapsed was about a, well, maybe half-mile to my east, and it was just such an odd sight to look over there and see a bridge that used to always be there now no longer being there. It is now laying down in the river.

And it's just -- it snarled up the area real big for traffic, and it knocked out cell service for cellular phones for about 45 minutes. There was so much activity, the cell sites were shutting down.

ERNEWEIN: And that's been restored a little bit now. COOPER: Dave, for -- for those who aren't familiar with this area, explain where this bridge connects and its importance to the city.

ERNEWEIN: It's a span of 35-W which goes over the Mississippi River. It's a -- 35-W is a major federal highway that runs through Minnesota, branches off, and goes east through Saint Paul and west through Minneapolis.

And this is the part that goes west through Minneapolis. The bridge itself is located on two major roads in Minneapolis that run parallel with the river. And that would be Washington Avenue and University Avenue. And this bridge connects those two streets. And this is just a very, very heavy traveled area.

And, as you mentioned earlier, it was under construction. They had been resurfacing the concrete deck, jackhammering up old pieces at a time and repouring concrete. So, it's been down limited to one or two lanes for about a month-and-a-half, which is probably a good thing, in retrospect.

COOPER: At this point, though, there were some reports that there could have been anywhere from 50 to 100 cars or vehicles on the bridge at the time of the collapse. Does that jibe with about the rush hour you would normally see around 6:05 p.m.?

ERNEWEIN: Oh, yes, absolutely. Because of the construction, it has been pretty much bumper to bumper on that bridge all day every day. Even at 11:00 at night, it's bumper to bumper most nights because of that -- it's a very heavily traveled route, and it's down to usually one or two lanes at night.

Now, I know, coming -- I traveled over that bridge this morning coming in, and there were two lanes opened heading south and one lane open heading north. Now, I don't know if that changed by the time of the collapse or not, but this bring, because of the construction and because of the amount of traffic, has been bumper to bumper pretty much all day every day.

COOPER: Dave Ernewein, we appreciate you joining us tonight with what you saw from Minneapolis.

Again, at this point, darkness is falling. Thunderstorms are expected. There has already been reports of rain. It is going to be a very long night for rescue workers who are on the scene. We have seen a large number of citizens trying to help as best they could in the moments after this bridge collapsed, many people entering down into the water trying to help people coming out of the water.

There, as I said, we have seen some pictures of divers also on the scene, searching cars that were submerged in the water. One report from an eyewitness, a Joe Costello, told CNN earlier today that he had talked to a police officer who said he saw seven bodies in a vehicle and just kept on walking. That is an unconfirmed report.

Right now, we know of three confirmed deaths, according to authorities in the area. But the pictures, as you can see for yourself, are horrific and bode of worse to come.

Ian Punnett is a talk show host for FM-107, another local station. He is at the scene.

Ian, what are you seeing right now?

IAN PUNNETT, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, we're down here at the base of the first wave of the bridge collapse if you're heading southbound on 35-W. As I heard you explain, 35-W kind of splits off. And this is southbound on 35-W, the first collapse.

And I'm looking at police just still getting rescue vehicles into the scene. They have had helicopters here off and on. They're trying to get everybody out of the water, if they can. We don't know exactly what's happening. We know that the governor is about to speak in a few minutes.

COOPER: We will certainly bring that to our viewers live.

Can -- how dark is it there now?

PUNNETT: Well, you're right, Anderson. It's just getting dark. There's a rather large storm which has been threatening the area over the last couple of hours. So, it's nothing but clouds and what feels like the hint of rain coming.

It was in the 90s today, so there was a couple of rumbles of thunder, too, which could hamper the rescue of whoever is still available. They have -- I'm standing right here by a car that had been flipped -- had another car behind it flip on top of it.

The woman inside of it, a woman named Melissa Hughes (ph), says that she drives this road pretty frequently, but she was driving home from a nearby suburb to south Minneapolis when the road underneath her gave way. It started to shake. It gave way. She -- she just saw literally people go up into the air. And then, as she hit the ground, the car behind her landed on top of her car.

COOPER: Ian, we're seeing a press conference.

Let's listen. We believe this is the mayor of Minneapolis.


MAYOR R.T. RYBAK, MAYOR OF MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA: As you know by now, the bridge on 35-W has collapsed.

There are several known dead people as part of that. It's a very dynamic situation. And we will be confirming more details as the night goes on. The incident is now in control, under control of the Minneapolis Fire Department.

Rocco Forte, our emergency preparedness commander, is in charge of that, using resources, significant resources from the county, the state and federal officials. We have significant resources on site. At this point, we have searched approximately 50 cars. We have confirmed six deaths. And we are continuing the search.

We have concern that this will be a very tragic night when it is over. And, so, we will be continuing our work.

We will be returning in approximately an hour or two with more information on that. But there are several pieces of information we would like your help in getting out quickly as possible.

First and foremost, because there's great concern, we want to make sure that those who urgently need to use their cell phones can. So, we ask everyone to please make as little use of your cell phone as possible with respect for those who obviously need it quite desperately, the feedback.

We also want to send a message to anyone who is in the Metrodome at the Twins game tonight that they are obviously safe, but we are sending them all down two streets, 4th and 6th Street, in the city. The light rail will also be operating, and so we want to make sure that, as that crowd comes out tonight, that they move towards the downtown area, not toward the incident.

We greatly appreciate the support of the citizens in staying away from the site, because, obviously, we need to have our resources at full maximum at that point.

So, what I wanted to do now is turn it over to Chief Dolan to talk a bit more about the incident, to Governor Pawlenty, and then we will turn to Ted Canova of the Red Cross.


TIM DOLAN, MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA, POLICE CHIEF: At this point, all survivors that were on the bridge are off the bridge.

We're also -- as far as construction workers are concerned, we have accounted for all the construction workers, except for one. We have assistance from the Red Cross and numerous other agencies, state patrol, St. Paul, others. We have water rescue and recovery going on right now. We have the resources that we need at this time.

We would also say that we -- we are clearing out personnel from that area. Perimeter security is our main concern right now. And we are clearing out those areas, with the officers checking other bridges, just as a precaution. We don't believe at this time that we have anything other than a bridge collapse.

I just want to add that, right now, that we did have a school bus full of youth. Those youth have been released to their parents. And we will have information here about a site for family members that are concerned and where they can go. And we will give that information a little bit later.

That's it.


GOV. TIM PAWLENTY (R), MINNESOTA: Obviously, this is a catastrophe of historic proportions for Minnesota.

And, right now, we are focused on making sure we do anything and everything to respond to the needs of those individuals that may have been harmed in this incident, as the mayor described, the command-and- control structure where the Minneapolis Fire Department has the lead in that regard. But they are being assisted by law enforcement and emergency responders from across the metro area, including federal officials, state officials, county officials.

That includes law enforcement, includes firefighting, includes paramedics or EMSes, technicians. It includes the sheriff's office. It includes DNR and various water resources. You saw a National Guard Black Hawk helicopter on the nearby bridge, in case there were medevac needs or other needs that they could help with. So, there is a substantial and massive response.

I was on site earlier this evening and had a chance to visit and see the site. It is obviously a catastrophe. And, first and foremost, we want to say to the families who are being impacted by this that our hearts and prayers are with you. But we also want to make sure that you know that we are doing everything we can to make sure that we respond as quickly as we can to the needs of this emergency.

A couple of other just quick items, and then we will turn it over to the Red Cross.

First of all, I was on the phone with Secretary Peters from the federal transportation authority. She's going to be here early tomorrow morning. She has pledged all of the federal government's resources and help.

But we have received gestures from Speaker Pelosi and the congressional delegation that they stand by and are willing to help in any way possible.

As to the bridge itself, it was built in 1967. It's a somewhat unique structure in the way that it was designed. It was last -- it was inspected both in 2005 and 2006. There were no structural deficiencies identified in the bridge. According to Mn/DOT, there were some cosmetic or minor repair items that needed some attention, but no structural defects or deficits identified in the bridge.

They notified us, from an engineering standpoint, the deck may have to be rehabilitated or replaced in 2020 or beyond, but no immediate or noted structural problems with the bridge.

I should also note, however, that there was construction taking place on the bridge relating to concrete repair and rehabilitation and replacement, guardrail replacement, lighting replacement, and work on the joints. That was being done, started recently, and was scheduled to be completed in September of 2007.

We also, of course, will be -- once this initial response is conducted, we will also be working to deal with traffic issues and rebuilding issues. And we will address that in more detail. But, obviously, there's going to need to be a very dramatic rerouting of traffic and transit patterns. And we're already working on those plans through the Met Council and others to try to plan for those scenarios.

But, right now, we're focused on the rescue and recovery efforts.

And I think, right now, we are going to hear from the Red Cross about a request that they have.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Governor.

It's been a very difficult night, as you can imagine. The Twin Cities Red Cross became the staging area for law enforcement officials, city officials. And the parking lot right now is transformed into a parking lot of 80 cars into a parking lot with five command vehicles and two masts for communications, boats, and police officers on horseback, all kinds of scenarios like that.

Our hearts go out to all of the victims, everybody who was involved in this. The Red Cross was also at the site that the 60 students -- 60 kids were taken from the school bus that you saw. Those 60 kids, a few of them had some injuries. Two may have been more severe than the other ones, but, totally, we believe, up to 10 kids were transported to area hospitals out of the 60.

In the moments that ensued after the kids were taken to the hospital, parents and family members were coming to the Red Cross down the hill right on the river road. And there were emotional embraces, as you can imagine. There were tears of joy. There was also sadness, concern.

I'm happy to say that the Red Cross, the volunteers, the staff there provided comfort. They were there to provide emotional counseling and help, along with things like food and -- and drink. But it was the emotional shoulder that the Twin Cities Red Cross really provided in this time of need, as the mayor said, such a dark moment in Minneapolis history.

We're getting flooded with requests, as you can imagine, whenever something like this happens, and you hear it on the radio, and you watch it on TV, flooded with requests from generous people in the Twin Cities: What can we do?

And it's a difficult time to say this, but I will put it out there just to honor the requests that are coming. You can visit our Web site. It's There's information there how you can help, from giving blood to donating.

Emergencies like this, it's national in scale for a chapter like the Twin Cities Red Cross. We can also use substantial financial donations, because this will certainly be breaking some budgets. We just started a budget year. It's a heck of a way to do it. And I hate to talk money at a time of such emergency, but we have a donation hot line. And that number is 612-460-3700.

Whatever generosity the Twin Cities community can share, we would certainly appreciate it. Whatever money gets donated, we give it back in spades to everybody in our community.

So, thank you.

RYBAK: We're certain that you have many other questions, but we do ask your support as we not take any at this point.

We want to want to go back to the incident center, make sure all the information we had coming in is correct. We will return to you as quickly as we can. We know you're doing an extraordinarily important job of getting the information out, but we also ask your indulgence as we go back and gather more information. We will be coming out as soon as we can on that.

We will be -- be speaking with you, obviously, about updates that happen throughout the evening on the tragedy, as well as for actions people will need for the morning.

But, with that, we will leave.

We will say one other thing that I think we can confirm at this point, that the family center has been set up at the Holiday Inn Metrodome.

Am I correct on that?


RYBAK: OK, at the Holiday Inn Metrodome.

But we will be -- we will be returning...

COOPER: You have been listening to Mayor R.T. Rybak saying that they will be back in an hour with more information. We, of course, are going to bring that to you live.

Here are the headlines from what we have learned in the last 10 minutes just from that press conference.

The major headline, six people now confirmed dead in this incident, the mayor calling it, saying this will be a tragic night before it is over.

Certainly, it is already a tragedy. Governor Tim Pawlenty called it a catastrophe of historic proportions for Minneapolis.

Fifty cars have so far been searched, according to the mayor, six dead confirmed. All survivors, according to the chief of police, Tim Dolan, all survivors who were on the bridge have now been taken off the bridge.

Governor Tim Pawlenty pointing out that the bridge was inspected both in 2005 and in 2006, and, according to him, quoting the Department of Transportation in Minneapolis, no structural deficiencies -- deficiencies were reported. The deck was reported to need rehabbing perhaps in 2020, but no structural deficiencies were apparently reported. The Red Cross gave an update on the 60 children taken off of the school bus, that -- the school bus right there, perched precariously as we saw. The tractor-trailer in front of it had been on fire. You can still see some of the smoke coming from the tractor-trailer truck. The kids have been evacuated off that school bus, all 60 of them taken, 10 of the children needing to be taken to area hospitals. The rest of the -- the rest of the children are at the Red Cross.

Let's check -- let's check in with Courtney Johnson, who is with the Red Cross.

Courtney, you helped care for those children. How are they?

COURTNEY JOHNSON, MEDIA RELATIONS MANAGER, AMERICAN RED CROSS - TWIN CITIES: As far as I know, most of them have already left our facility. They didn't seem to be walking in here having too severe injuries. You would kind of classify them as the walking wounded.

There were anywhere from two to 10 kids who were transported via ambulance to the hospital, but, other than that, none of them, in my lay opinion, appeared to have life-threatening injuries.

COOPER: Their parents were brought to -- to the facility?

JOHNSON: There were some parents who trickled in.

Right now, we are so close to this event, that it's really tough for folks to navigate the streets. There's no way that people can get in. So, what we're doing is, we're taking everybody to a local hotel, where everyone will be reunited a little bit later on this evening.

COOPER: And, for the kids who weren't injured, just, how are their spirits?

JOHNSON: You know, walking in here, I saw a lot of crying. This is, understandably, an extremely traumatic thing for such young children to experience.

So, there was a lot of crying.

COOPER: What age of kids are we talking about?

JOHNSON: But some of the older children were comforting the younger children. And, you know, by the time that they're walking out of here, they're no longer crying and are feeling a little bit better about the situation.

COOPER: What age of children were they?

JOHNSON: You know, I would say that we saw anyone from 4 years old to maybe 12 or 13.

COOPER: The kids are lucky, indeed.

Did you hear any of them talking about what they had seen, what they had gone through? JOHNSON: I didn't.

More often, I was kind of -- I was going around and trying to check and triage some of the children. There were some children who would walk up to me and ask for a Band-Aid for, you know, a cut and that kind of thing.

COOPER: What else is the Red Cross doing right now?

JOHNSON: As far as what we're doing, other than helping out those children, what we will be doing for the foreseeable future here is, we have a mental health distress team.

So, those are the folks that will be able to sit down and kind of talk things through with volunteers, first responders, our staff, and people who have experienced this. So, we have that.

We also have people from (INAUDIBLE) teams. And they're going to be helping to feed this large group of people. There are more first responders here than I have ever seen in my life. And they're all going to be getting hungry in a little bit.


JOHNSON: So, we will be prepared to feed them this evening as well.

COOPER: Courtney, appreciate your efforts. We will talk with you again. We're going to be on the air for the next three hours, at least.

Ian Punnett on the scene now with local station FM-107. He's at the scene.

Ian, what are you learning?

PUNNETT: Well, we just thought we would tell you, I asked one of the politics officers -- because it was apparent that more of the emergency personnel were leaving than coming -- and so I asked the officer if there was a status report, in terms of how the -- the scene is being handled.

And he said, at this point, he's not free to comment, except to say, obviously, there were a lot of first-responders from all over the collar counties and suburbs. And those people may, at this point, be superfluous and they're being sent home.

COOPER: That jibes with what we heard out of the press conference, Chief Tim Dolan saying they're basically trying to sort of scale back on the area, get the situation under control. The overall perimeter security is a big concern of theirs right now.

Ian, is -- are there still operations going on in the water? I mean, are there still vehicles visible in the water?

PUNNETT: Not from where I stand. And -- and there were several people who were -- earlier, they were in kayaks and boats. They had -- perhaps you even had had helicopter video of this.

I was on the scene, so I don't know. But there were many people who took it upon themselves to try to go from car top to car top, looking for anybody who might be a survivor or somebody who might be on the side of the river.

COOPER: Ian, stand by with us on the scene.

Want to go to the phone with Will Farley. He actually saw the bridge collapse. He was driving on the Cedar Avenue Bridge, which is the older stone structure you have been seeing in the background in a lot of these pictures.

Will, what time were you on the scene? What did you see?

WILL FARLEY, EYEWITNESS: I was just leaving my girlfriend's house at, like, 6:00. We were driving into the Dinkytown area, which is a college community campus area, at which point, when we're driving, we saw a giant cloud of smoke and dust and debris.

And, immediately, we thought it was a fire. But at which point we started driving over 35-2, we realized, the bridge has collapsed. At that point, my girlfriend and myself drove down on an off-road to the Mississippi River and just watched in horror as construction workers sat there puzzled, and onlooker-bys and -- onlookers, excuse me -- were -- were scared to death.

COOPER: So, you were actually on the bridge and got off on an off-ramp before getting to the point that it had collapsed? Is that correct?

FARLEY: We were driving over the bridge.


FARLEY: It -- Dinkytown is 4th Street University. It kind of crosses over the 35 area, where there is massive construction.

It's just -- it was just chaotic. It has been for the last couple weeks.

COOPER: You know...


FARLEY: And my girlfriend told me, she's, like, if this -- if she should would have known the road was open, she would have taken that bridge home, and she would have been involved in it as well. So...

COOPER: We have heard so many different reports. One person said the bridge started to buckle. It went up. It came down. Another person talked about an eerie silence that seemed to go on for some 10 minutes after the collapse before they started to hear silence.

What did you witness in those first moments after you pulled off the off-ramp?

FARLEY: In the first moments, everybody -- nobody was doing anything. Everybody was in -- was in utter horror. They were puzzled. They were scared and confused.

My girlfriend didn't want to go. I walked under the bridge and, at which point, the bridge collapsed on top of a bunch of train cars. And people were trying to wedge their way between the train cars to get out and -- get out and try to save people in the river. So, I mean, it was -- it was chaos.

COOPER: Did -- could you -- could you see the river from where you were? And if so, what did you see in the river?

FARLEY: I wasn't able to see the river. I refused to crawl between the train cars, because, at that point, I wasn't sure if the bridge was stable or not.

But it looks like a lot of passerby-ers were attempting to take pictures with their camera phones. And it sounds like there was couple looker-by-ers that were also trying to save lives, too. So, it was chaos down there.

COOPER: How long did you stay on the scene for?

FARLEY: Probably -- probably around 15 minutes, at which point we couldn't stay there any longer. It was just -- it was too emotional, a lot of people screaming from apartments, just could not -- couldn't believe what was happening.

I mean, this is one of the major roads in Minnesota coming into the Twin Cities. And, during rush hour, I -- I can't even imagine what it would be like to be on that bridge.

COOPER: So, you actually -- you saw smoke before you actually knew what was going on?

FARLEY: We saw a giant dust cloud, and, at which point, we realized it wasn't a fire.

And, I mean, we knew there was a lot of construction going on around there. But, when you see it -- when you start driving over it and you see the bridge and a middle part of the bridge is missing, you can only assume -- assume the worst.

And, I mean, I don't know if it's good or bad that the Mississippi was there. But it's scary stuff. And I -- children were on buses. And, I mean, it was -- it was terrible.

COOPER: Will Farley, appreciate you joining us on what has been a terrible day for -- for you and, obviously, for everybody who has been affected by this incident.

Again, at this point, six people confirmed dead. We have just learned that a short time ago. The pictures really tell the story. Some of these pictures, though, are -- are by now about an hour old. Darkness has come. There is a thunderstorm threatening, rain as well, not ideal conditions for a rescue effort. And there are still efforts being made to locate anyone who may have been injured, who may still be in the water.

We have seen a number of times pictures of divers, even of people, rescue workers without dive equipment, just simply taking a breath of air, diving underneath the water, searching cars which are submerged, searching for anyone who may still be alive and, of course, for anyone who may be trapped in their car -- six confirmed dead at this point.

Area hospitals -- there's no silver lining in an incident like this, but there are hospitals very close by. And we have heard from a number of doctors today at Abbott Northwestern Hospital. They saw four patients, two adults, two children. They are the second closest hospital in the area.

Another doctor reported earlier that they had received one fatality, that fatality from drowning. He said that he believed there may have been other drowning victims. We don't know -- the six fatalities thus far confirmed, we do not know what the cause of those fatalities were.

But, certainly, you can tell from the pictures there are cars that have been crushed by falling concrete, cars that have been crushed by other cars, cars which have been submerged in the water. People have drowned. At least one confirmed person has drowned, at least.

Dozens of vehicles were scattered, stacked on top of each other amidst the rubble. At least eight cars and trucks were submerged in the river, according to an early report. We don't have the total number. Fifty cars have so far been searched. That was the latest information we had from about 10 minutes ago, but, as you can see, train cars there crushed from the falling bridge.

Rescue workers came from a wide variety of neighborhoods. The call went out far and wide. And, in a situation like this, people just jump in their vehicles and try to get there as quick as they can, take their ambulances, take their rescue vehicles, local fire departments, small fire departments, police departments from neighboring areas, everyone trying to do what they can.

Repeatedly, we have seen efforts like this woman has made, nothing but a rope keeping her safe, as she goes through the water, going from vehicle to vehicle, trying to find signs of life, trying to locate anyone who may still be trapped in a vehicle, anyone whose body needs to be recovered.

That is the school bus that has had so much focus on. We talked to a Red Cross worker just a few moments ago -- 60 kids taken from that school bus, as many as 10 of them sent to the -- the -- to neighborhood hospitals, none of those injuries thought to be particularly severe.

The question, of course, hanging over this disaster is, what could have caused this bridge to collapse? At this point, we do not have the answers to that.

We have -- Ted Galambos is a structural engineer. He's a retired professor at the University of Minnesota. He knows this bridge well. One of his colleagues inspected it four years ago. He joins me now.

Ted, as you look at these pictures, what jumps out at you, from an engineering standpoint?

TED GALAMBOS, STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: I am totally puzzled as to just why both ends of the bridge would come down all at once.

I have -- would expect, if there's a failure, there would be a local failure, and it would spread from there. But this one puzzles me completely. Usually...

COOPER: You say a local failure, meaning a failure in one spot. But this seems to have many points of failure.

GALAMBOS: That's right. Yes, yes.

COOPER: How do you -- how do you tell this was not a failure in one spot, because of the way it has crumpled?

GALAMBOS: It just came down so fast, and it seemed to me that both ends just collapsed and it just fell right down into the river. And that -- that bothers me a whole lot.

Usually, one member fails by cracking or brittle fracture or fatigue, or you might have a member or so would buckle. But that would usually be something that would be progressive. And this one was just totally sudden. So I -- I'm puzzled.

COOPER: What -- how -- what are the possible explanations? Or is it simply at this point just too early to tell?

GALAMBOS: I think it's too early to tell. I -- I have a suspicion that there was probably some kind of an overstress there due to thermal conditions, possibly.

The bridge under full loading was not very stressed. When my colleague tested it, it was very low stress. It was due to the service load, due to the traffic on there. So I don't think it was overload.

So it could have been either some fatigue failure or some sudden buckling that would cause the failure. But this -- this would have to be studied as all the pieces are pulled out.

COOPER: When you look at other -- when you look at other bridge failures that have occurred throughout the United States and around the world, is there a commonality to them? GALAMBOS: Usually there is more than one cause. There is, you know, some kind of a construction error. Most bridges fail during construction. And I only know of one bridge that failed under load, and that was in 1969 in Ohio between Point Pleasant, Ohio, where there was a buckling of the top cord (ph) due to a fatigue failure, and then the whole bridge went down just as suddenly as this one.

But this bridge was constructed in -- yes?

COOPER: So I just want to -- if you could just stand by.

Joining us on the phone right now, Kristi Rollwagen. She's the deputy director of emergency preparedness for the city of Minneapolis.

Kristi, appreciate you joining us. What is the latest information you have on the situation at the scene right now?

KRISTI ROLLWAGEN, DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS, MINNEAPOLIS: Well, at this time we are still in rescue operation that is transitioning into a recovery effort.

We have a number of dive teams in the river now, trying to go figure out who's left to be pulled out of cars that have been submerged in the river. We have a whole structural engineering (ph) team on scene that's assessing the safety of the bridge as it is so we can get more rescue workers back up on the bridge to start to figure out if we have any more cars that are lost in between the structure cross of the bridge.

And we are trying to hunker down our operations a little bit here. We're in the middle of a thunderstorm that's coming through town here, so we just want to make sure that our rescue folks are safe. We just need to figure out what -- who's still in the river, what's still in the river, what needs to come out and then look at how we're going to go ahead and tackle the rubble pile.

COOPER: Let's talk about the river right now. Do you have a sense of how many vehicles are in the river currently? I saw reports from the Coast Guard saying anywhere from 30 to 50. Is that accurate?

ROLLWAGEN: I've heard around 50 vehicles in the water.

COOPER: Fifty vehicles in the water. And there -- the mayor, Mayor Rybak had said in a press conference a short time ago that 50 cars had been searched. Are those -- all those 50 vehicles in the water? Do you know, have all the vehicles in the water now been searched?

ROLLWAGEN: Yes. At this time I've been told there were about 50 vehicles that are submerged in the water and I don't know how far they are in the water. They're, you know, in the box (ph) of the river, they're still (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on the rubble piles.

I'm actually not on scene, and I haven't had a visual at all on the emergency at hand. I'm in our emergency operations center right now. COOPER: OK. So at this point you're not sure how many of the vehicles in the water have actually been searched? That's unknown?

ROLLWAGEN: The preliminary count is they've been able to -- to come up with about 50 vehicles in the water right now. And the vehicles that were remaining either on the bridge or in the vicinity of the bridge have already been searched except one area of the bridge that is still structurally not safe enough to put any rescue workers on them. That's the next priority.

COOPER: OK. Do you -- have you gotten a report from the structural engineers, telling you whether or not you can send rescue workers back onto the bridge?

ROLLWAGEN: That's what they're assessing right now. We have an Army Corps of Engineers that are assisting us with providing some cranes, as well as some engineering support that is actually mobile on the river, comes in on a barge.

So you know, it's just (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on the site. And we have our city engineers as well as our state highway department engineers that are on scene, and they're doing an assessment.

COOPER: At this point with the nightfall coming now, I'm -- it's pretty dark. It's getting dark there, if not already dark and this rainstorm. How is that affecting the operations? Are you able to bring in lights? Are you having to scale back at this point?

ROLLWAGEN: No, we are not scaling back at this point. We're actually getting ready to try and transition into that night operation. So we have...

COOPER: We're looking at a live picture right now. Have you -- have you brought in extra lights at this point?

ROLLWAGEN: That is -- that is a resource that has been requested and is en route.

COOPER: And at this point, is six -- the mayor had said that there were six confirmed fatalities. Does that number still stand?

ROLLWAGEN: I've been told six confirmed fatalities at this time, yes.

COOPER: Do you have any sense of how many personnel you have on the scene right now?

ROLLWAGEN: Hundreds. We've had a lot of our mutual aid partners arrive on scene, our special rescue teams are here. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) We have our assistants from the medical examiner's office. We have the American Red Cross to set up an assistance center to help with the reunification process for those people that are -- especially the kids on the school bus. That's where the reunifications take place.

And we have many, many -- we've put in all calls to -- every firefighter in the city of Minneapolis is here working as we speak. And our mutual aid partners are back showing us (ph). Our sheriff's office is here, their water patrol is here. We have hundreds and hundreds of rescue workers on scene right now.

COOPER: Chief Dolan at the press conference about half an hour ago had talked about perimeter security, maintaining the -- sort of the perimeter. How big -- what is the concern with that?

ROLLWAGEN: Well, perimeter security is more for the safety of not only the rescue workers but also any of the lay public that thinks they want to come out and view the incident.

It's just not in a safe location. There's a steep river bank that's there and you know what? There are such things as secondary collapses that happen in these large scale emergencies.

So we want to maintain a perimeter of security and make sure that we don't have any other conflicts, you know, any other type of a secondary collapse that would create more of a problem for us than anything.

COOPER: Kristi, have you ever seen anything like this?

ROLLWAGEN: Not in my career. It looks very much like the video we saw out of the Northridge earthquake, in my opinion.

COOPER: And in terms of what's happened in Minneapolis while you've been with the department, is this the work thing you've ever had to work on?

ROLLWAGEN: This is the worst thing I've been involved with. That's correct.

COOPER: Kristi Rollwagen, I know you've got a lot to do. Appreciate you joining us. Thank you very much.

ROLLWAGEN: Thank you.

COOPER: Kristi pointing out that the rescue operations at this point are transitioning from rescue operations to recovery efforts.

Some 50 vehicles have been identified in the water. Unclear how many of those have actually been fully searched. Structural engineers from the Army Corps of Engineers as well as from the city and the state are on hand, trying to analyze the actual structure of the bridge to see if they can get more rescue workers onto the bridge.

Because, though of all the survivors who were on the bridge, have been taken off, there are some parts of the bridge and some vehicles on that bridge which have not been searched. And clearly, rescue workers want to find out what the condition of those vehicles are and what the condition of any people who may still be in and/or near those vehicles or perhaps trapped by concrete that has literally pancaked, as some eyewitnesses have described it.

On the phone right now is another eyewitness to this unfolding tragedy, Josh Fisher. He was near the bridge when it collapsed. He joins us now.

Josh, what did you see, what did you hear?

JOSH FISHER, EYEWITNESS: I was about a block and a half away, I believe, when the bridge itself collapsed. I was driving perpendicular to the bridge. I heard kind of a rumble.

And then I was -- a few seconds later, I was at the intersection and I saw a lot of dust. And -- I thought immediately that the bridge had collapsed. And so I parked my car and walked onto the 10th Avenue Bridge.

COOPER: And the scene you saw, what was happening?

FISHER: It was just -- it's hard to describe, because it's something that you never expect to describe. Probably the first image that sticks in my head is the car crushed under girders, that -- that the canopy was just flattened. I mean, very difficult.

COOPER: Did you -- were you able to see the river from your vantage point?

FISHER: I was able to see the river once I was on the 10th Avenue Bridge.

COOPER: And what was happening in the river?

FISHER: I mean, certainly the water -- there was a lot of motion in the water. It was difficult to pick out exactly.

I was more focused on -- on the car that -- there was a school bus adjacent to an 18-wheeler that was on fire. So that was of particular concern.

COOPER: And did you see the kids getting out of that bus?

FISHER: I didn't, but I definitely heard later that they were able to get out. If they -- if they exited through the right side, I wouldn't have seen anything.

COOPER: What else did you see? I mean, describe some of the other vehicles you saw. Were there people standing around on the bridge at that point?

FISHER: There was certainly a few people on the bridge in the water checking out cars. You know, they were completely isolated. You know, there was really nowhere for them to go.

What really struck me is that it was rush hour and there were far few too cars on the bridge than there probably were before it collapsed, and that hit me immediately.

COOPER: Josh, I know it's been a difficult day for you. We appreciate you talking to us.

We're anticipating a press conference from one of the local area hospitals. We will bring that to you live. Looks like that may be starting any moment now. Let's listen.

DR. JOSEPH CLINTON, HENNEPIN COUNTY MEDICAL CENTER: This will be our last medical update tonight. There has essentially been no change. We have gotten no new critical patients. There's been no additional deaths. Things are -- from a medical standpoint at this hospital, everything is under control, and I believe they are throughout the city from a medical standpoint.

It looks like the scene at the bridge, from the information we have, is largely a recovery operation at this time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know how many other victims are at other hospitals?

CLINTON: I don't have an absolute number, but they've gone to several of the hospitals in the Twin Cities area.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you tell us anything more about the one death here?

CLINTON: No, I don't have any additional information on that. They're still notifying the family.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What about the critically injured? (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Have you stabilized them?

CLINTON: Yes, we've had four patients who've had surgery.


CLINTON: I believe everyone that's here is stable, but there are still critically ill patients here. As far as the six who are critically ill, their condition hasn't been officially changed yet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) fatalities, the name of the person?

CLINTON: No, I don't have any more information at this time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You mentioned the walking wounded earlier. Do you have any of them here?

CLINTON: We have not here. Apparently, a number of them went to university hospital and to other hospitals in the area.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any children among the patients?

CLINTON: Yes, there were a number of children that were taken to Memorial Hospital, and we received one child here.


CLINTON: I just saw him, so I don't know the absolute age. I think it was a teenager.


CLINTON: We're still identifying everyone. So that's one of the logistical problems, is making sure we have everyone properly identified.


CLINTON: Not really. I think that's a function of how many people were on the bridge at the time. So...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You still have 22 non-critical and six critical?

CLINTON: I believe that's the number, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No more patients came in after your last conference?

CLINTON: No, no.


CLINTON: Yes. Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you characterize this type of surgery?

CLINTON: I believe one -- one patient had surgery on their head, a craniotomy, and three had abdominal surgery. There was another chest injury that did not require surgery but required some local treatment for that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was this consistent with a fall or...

CLINTON: Fall, crush.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you tell us what the rest of the night is going to be here?

CLINTON: I think that from a medical standpoint, the rest of the night should be quiet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Doctor, are the patients sharing their stories when they're talking to staff?

CLINTON: I'm sorry?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are the patients able to say what happened?

CLINTON: I haven't gotten any information from patients about the -- about the situation.


CLINTON: The types of injuries are blunt force injuries, so the patients who are critically had tunkal (ph) injuries, abdominal, chest injuries and head injuries. And then we had extremity injuries and people with various -- various aches and pains. We had one penetrating injury of the chest.


CLINTON: The injuries we've had, the critical injuries were injuries to the trunk, head, one penetrating injury to the chest and orthopedic injuries.


CLINTON: The hospital responded very, very well. We had plenty of people, medical, non-medical, administrative, transportation, cafeteria. We had a very excellent response. Public safety did an outstanding job: police, fire, paramedics.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What kind of preparations -- (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

CLINTON: We do drills, a number of drills throughout the year on various types of disasters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And has everything from what's going on in the hospital's standpoint, has everything played out as much as (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- or as close to -- (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

CLINTON: Nothing ever goes exactly according to plan. But it did play out well, yes. Nothing goes exactly according to plan.

So I think that will be it tonight from a medical standpoint.

COOPER: You're listening to a medical press conference. The doctor saying from a medical standpoint the situation is under control. They've been seeing a lot of blunt force injuries. They had one fatality, a drowning victim at their hospital.

So far six in all, six confirmed dead at this point.

Doctor -- that was Dr. Joseph Clinton of the Hennepin County Medical Center.

Standing by for us is Ian Punnett of local radio station FM-107. He is at the scene.

Ian, describe what you're seeing in the scene now and in the last half an hour or so. What are you seeing?

IAN PUNNETT, FM-107: Well, Anderson, I'm just changing my vantage point just to make sure I get a new look.

And I just talked to an officer. The -- I was on hold there listening to the press conference, but one of the canine units came past, five or six of the -- both the Minneapolis and regional police departments with their canine units heading down to the scene.

The lights are all up. There is a distant rumble or two of thunder. There has been lightning seen, and with all of these masks (ph) up, they're kind of concerned about that, both for the lighting and for the press.

I asked the police officer what he was going to be doing to secure the area, what protocol was. He said that at this point, they're not bringing in the National Guard. They're going to attempt to secure the scene with the agencies that are already there. But they're leaving open the possibility that they might need more help.

And I will say that there are still hundreds of people streaming down to the area just to look, to cut through yards to get through any way they can to get down to the river.

COOPER: That is certainly something authorities do not need and/or want and certainly urging anyone who may be in that area to stay away from this area, especially as darkness falls, especially with a thunderstorm in the area.

Is it raining there now? Is it thundering there?

PUNNETT: It has not rained, and it's felt like it. The temperature dropped significantly in the last 20, 25 minutes where you could kind of feel that sense that the storm was approaching.

But no rain yet. The rain hasn't -- nor has the wind picked up. But we did see lightning to the west, and we did hear thunder a couple of times. It's dark, and in one area it looks kind of like it's stormy dark, if you know the difference of what I'm talking about, when those clouds roll in. But as of right now, no rain.

COOPER: As we've been saying before, there were at last count some 50 cars believed to be in the water. There was an estimate by -- by Kristi Rollwagen, who's with the emergency management office. Not clear how many of those vehicles have been searched at this point, but a number of vehicles have been searched. The mayor earlier saying at least 50 cars have been searched. We're not sure if those are just the cars in water. All the cars on the bridge.

Ian, we had heard from Kristi that there is -- there are some parts of the bridge which have not been searched. Some of the vehicles on the bridge have not been searched because, frankly, they want to get everyone off and rescue workers off, because they weren't sure of the structural integrity.

PUNNETT: I heard the same thing, too, locally. And so what that means, exactly, what they think they'll find, I don't know.

Everybody I spoke with had walked off or had seen the person that was near them be carried off still breathing. One woman with whom we spoke said that there was a car, and I saw the car myself. It had fallen from at least three stories. It tumbled -- it rolled off. It could be a minivan, but frankly, it was a little hard to tell.

And the woman got out of it with just a scratch on her forehead. How that's possible, I don't know. But she had tumbled off probably two to three stories straight down, and she climbed out with just a scratch.

COOPER: How many people have you actually talked to who were on the bridge when it collapsed?

PUNNETT: About a half dozen who were either there or were standing right by there as it happened.

COOPER: Is there a commonality in their description? What have you learned from them?

PUNNETT: Yes. I mean, there's -- the same story we keep hearing about first there was a sound, then it was just this deep vibration, and then it was more just what they saw.

In fact, several people said when they were asked, there was a press conference with one of the women, Melissa Hughes, who was standing on the street, and she had said that she didn't hear anything. That after the initial moment where she could tell that something was happening, it was almost like it was soundless.

And that's what we heard from a couple other people, that there really wasn't the noise that you would expect, even though when you look at the video, you'd think it must have -- it must have made some sort of sound.

But inside of cars, hot day, windows rolled up, air conditioning on, radios blaring, what did they hear?

COOPER: Ian, stand by with us. We have heard from eyewitnesses to the collapse. Ian was just talking about what he has been hearing.

Now we want you to hear from a survivor. He talks, literally, about falling off the bridge. We're going to go to that in just a short time.

We're showing you right now a live picture just to give you a sense of the darkness that has descended on this area, now at 9:52 p.m. local time in Minneapolis. You can see they have some lights on the scene, trying to bring in more. Kristi Rollwagen from the emergency management office talked about they have a request in to bring in more lights.

But imagine the scene, if you will, on the water, the difficulty of trying to find anyone who may still be in the water. This is no longer so much a rescue operation; it is transitioning, according to authorities, to a recovery effort.

We -- we're about to play you a tape that we are seeing for the first time. It is a survivor who talks about falling off the bridge. The audio is from the local paper, the "Star-Tribune".



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Half the bridge is in the Mississippi River. Half of it is on the ground, and I fell probably about 30, 40 feet, landed on the shore of the Mississippi. And so on the way down, I thought I was dead. I literally thought I was dead.

My truck was completely face down. It was pointing towards the ground, falling (ph) towards the ground. And my truck got ripped in half. When I got out of my truck, it was -- it was folded in half, and I can't believe I'm alive. There's a reason.

(UNINTELLIGIBLE) ... wearing my seatbelt. I had my seatbelt on, and if I didn't, I don't know what would have happened. I would have -- probably would have went through the windshield. I'm lucky I don't have a cut on my face.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gary, you said that when you fell, you saw other cars, you saw other people in the water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. There's -- I saw a tanker go head first into the water, and there was only five feet of the back end showing out of the water.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, that's actually further on the bridge. I was down towards the water mark. And a car was on fire. It was -- they're lucky. They fell about ten feet, and that might be the school bus that was actually -- we ran up the incline on the bridge. And there was a school bus full of probably 8 to 14-year-olds, and we literally had to carry them off of the bridge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you had time to see this because you said you were only going less than 10 miles an hour?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was bumper-to-bumper traffic. We were probably going 10 miles an hour. There was a lot of cars on that bridge.


COOPER: That, the voice of a man who was on the bridge as it fell, saying he fell some 30 feet and feels very lucky to be alive. You can certainly hear that in his voice.

Will Farley joins us now. He was an eyewitness who came upon the scene.

Will, describe again for those who have just joined us, how -- what did you see when the bridge collapsed?

WILL FARLEY, EYEWITNESS: My girlfriend just got off work, and we were heading into Dinkytown, which is kind of the college district of the area. And all of a sudden a giant dust cloud kind of formed on the road, at which point we were puzzled and couldn't exactly figure out what was going on.

However, once we drove over and we saw 35W, it quickly became apparent that something really bad happened. COOPER: And I'm not sure how close it was that you actually got, but when you pulled off the road to witness it, how close did you get? What did you see?

FARLEY: I saw construction workers with their hands on their hips and on their faces, in shock. I saw no paramedics at that point, obviously, and no police officers. It was just a beret (ph) of college students with camera phones and people rushing to the scene.

And my girlfriend and I both ran down to the river, getting out of our car, and tried to figure out what exactly just happened.

COOPER: And were people screaming? Were people yelling? Was there a silence?

FARLEY: It was completely silent. People didn't know exactly what to think. My girlfriend and myself were both puzzled, and we don't know whether we were supposed to save people or run away from the bridge.

COOPER: Will, appreciate you being with us. Stick around.

The question hanging over this disaster is, of course, what could have caused the bridge to collapse?

Ted Galambos is a structural engineer, a retired professor at the University of Minnesota. He knows the bridge well. One of his colleagues inspected it four years ago. He joins me now.

Ted, it is -- obviously, we don't want to go down the road of speculation, but just looking from the pictures, what is -- what is in your gut?

GALAMBOS: Well, I have -- I told you before, I have no idea what happened. But it was something that was extremely fast; and it could have been buckling, or it could have been some kind of a brittle fracture or fatigue.

The problem with cause -- getting cause over a bridge failure is that it takes years sometimes. People still are not agreed on what caused the bridge at Tacoma Narrows to fail. So this is going to go on for years, people studying it.

And it's a terrible, terrible disaster. And I think that it will be a lot of work to get the -- get the bridge studied and to find out what happened. These things don't happen (ph)...

COOPER: Ted, I just talked to some emergency management people -- I just talked to some emergency management people...


COOPER: ... who say right now they have engineers from the Army Corps, from the city and the state looking at the bridge to try to see if it's sound enough for them to get rescue workers back on there to search the areas that still haven't been searched. What is that process? How -- what are they looking for right now?

GALAMBOS: Well, they're looking to see whether or not the pieces that people have to go on, that their ends are still connected and that the structure is sound enough to carry humans and carry equipment. And that they can do by, I guess, the seat of their pants. They ought to be able to do that.

COOPER: And in the hours ahead, what is -- is there still danger that the pieces that are -- that we're looking at right now that are still elevated could still fall?

GALAMBOS: Oh, yes, oh, yes. It's possible. Especially if there's going to be wind and storms. Yes.

COOPER: Obviously, there's a lot of concern about the weather moving in, about what is happening in the darkness.

Ted Galambos, we appreciate you coming in and talking with us.

Obviously, there's still a lot we are trying to figure out. The pictures tell part of the story. Clearly, the investigation weeks and months, and Ted was saying, perhaps even years of investigation may be required.

But look at the images, the cars dangling, almost seemingly in midair, fallen from what happened in Minneapolis around 6:05 p.m. local time in Minneapolis.

It is -- we're coming up on the top of the hour now. It will nearly be four hours since this incident began. And we want to bring you up to date on exactly what happened.

We are still getting reports in. There are still divers in the water. They are still looking for any survivors and/or any people who still have yet to be recovered. But this is, according to officials, transitioning from a rescue operation to recovery efforts and all of that, in the darkness in Minneapolis tonight.

There is still a lot to cover. It is now 11 p.m. on the East Coast in the United States. It is 10 p.m. in Minneapolis.