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Bridge Collapse in Minnesota

Aired August 2, 2007 - 00:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: It is midnight on the East Coast. It is 11 p.m. in Minnesota. Darkness has fallen from the time that pictures now you are seeing. Rescue workers have been pulled out of the waters. The divers have been taken out of the water. It is simply too dangerous for them at this point to be in those murky waters in the pitch black with concrete and twisted steel and metal protruding out from all different places. There's no telling what is in those waters at this point and it is simply too dangerous for divers to be there.
The rescue operations have now transitioned to recovery efforts but even those recovery efforts in the darkness of the night are being scaled back. Some operations at last word about half an hour ago we heard from the chief of the fire department, some operations were continuing on some parts of the bridge but those were winding down as well. It is not clear if they will completely be halted in the overnight hours. Some 50 cars have so far been searched. Some 50 cars have been found in the water. It's not clear if all the cars that were in the water submerged or partially submerged have thus far been searched.

Those were winding down as well. It is not clear if they will completely be halted in the overnight hours. Some 50 cars have been searched, found in the water as well. It's not clear if all the cars that were in the water submerged or partially submerged have thus far been searched. But seven fatalities have been confirmed at this point. The bridge, according to the governor, was inspected last in 2006. There was an inspection as well in 2005. According to the governor, no structural deficiencies were reported in either of those inspections. But no doubt this is going to be very closely investigated in the coming weeks and months and perhaps even years. Often times these investigations take a very, very long to try to determine what exactly caused a massive structure like this interstate highway to collapse. Let's take a look at what happened earlier tonight as CNN's Randi Kaye reports.

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

UNIDENFITIED MALE: I saw a bunch of smoke, white-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, then rippled to the north end. 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 in the Mississippi River below.

UNIDENFITIED MALE: Just completely gave way, the whole bridge from one side of the Mississippi to the other just completely gave way, fell all the way down. I probably had a 30, 35-foot freefall and there was 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.

UNIDENFITIED MALE: I realized that the school bus was right next to me and me and a couple 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.

UNIDENFITIED MALE: You could see some get out through their sunroofs and check on others.

UNIDENFITIED MALE: I fell probably about 30, 40 feet and landed on the shore of the Mississippi. I am so lucky to be alive. On the way down, I thought I was dead. I literally thought I was dead. My truck was completely face down pointing towards the ground, falling towards the ground. And my truck got ripped in half. When I got over to my truck, it was folded in half, and I can't believe I'm alive.

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 fire. The Minnesota Department of Transportation says the 35W 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 pot holes and resurfacing the bridge. Still unclear if that caused this.

COOPER: Randi Kaye joins us. Randi, you spent a lot of time in that area, traveled that bridge many times. It's a major throughway for the city.

KAYE: Absolutely. It's probably about 100,000 to 200,000 people use that bridge daily. Everywhere you go in the Minneapolis St. Paul area you can see that bridge. You have the concrete sitting on top of the metal there. It separates Minneapolis from St. Paul. There's only really about eight miles between those two cities. On one bank, on one side of the bridge, you find the Metrodome, which is where the Twins were playing tonight. One of the reasons they went ahead with that game, as you know Anderson, is because they didn't want another 20,000 or 25,000 people heading back into that traffic. On the other bank is the University of Minnesota. We've heard a lot of our guests tonight talking about an area called "Dinky Town." That is the area of Minnesota University where the bars and restaurants are. If you're heading north on that the bridge, the first exit would be University Avenue and that's Dinky Town. So a lot of people who were there probably saw the smoke and witnessed what actually went down about 6 o'clock central time.

COOPER: And at this point, is it a pedestrian bridge as well?

KAYE: It isn't actually. There are some pathways around the bridge and some other areas that you can walk, but this is strictly for cars. The speed limit is about 55. It is a very, very heavily traveled bridge.

COOPER: Randi, appreciate that reporting.

Again just to bring you up to date, seven confirmed fatalities at this point in this collapse. There's still a lot to be learned about exactly what caused this collapse. We're looking at getting some new pictures, some still photos that have been coming in. Just wanted to show you just some of the different angles. These taken just in the immediate aftermath of the collapse. There have been reports of as many as 50 cars in the water submerged or partially submerged. You get a sense there, though, cars flipping over onto other cars, slamming into other cars. That is the school bus that we've been talking a lot about and the tractor tailor, which the front of it which was on fire. Those 60 kids getting out of the back of the school bus. Certainly that situation could have been much worse had it not been for Jeremy Hernandez, a young man on that school bus who had the presence of mind to kick out the back door and get those kids off the bus but you see a number of the cars perched precariously at an angle. Some people tried to reverse, some people just putting on the emergency brakes just trying to get out as quickly as they possibly could, the smoke billowing from the fire. Rescue crews worked a long time to get that fire out. A number of injuries, some 60 people or more taken to local area hospitals. At this point, though, the last press conference we had from hospital officials, from at least one hospital, saying is that the medical situation was under control. These are some of the images of the cars in the water that we saw. But, again, the chief of the fire department, Chief Clack, telling CNN at a press conference just a short time ago saying that rescue operations in the water have officially been called off for the evening.

Joining us now on the phone is Christy Foster. She's there at the scene looking for her missing brother, Kirk. Christy, where are you right now?

CHRISTY FOSTER: I'm at the Holiday Inn Metrodome in Minneapolis.

COOPER: And what are you hearing?

FOSTER: Well, a lot of families that are looking for their families, not knowing where they're at, and we're just waiting to see if they can tell us anything of where our missing family members are at.

COOPER: When was the last time you talked to Kirk?

FOSTER: At 9:30 last night. He was at my house.

COOPER: Does he travel along the bridge?

FOSTER: Yes. Him and his girlfriend, they live right off of 35W in northeast Minneapolis, and they would take that freeway to get to my house or to get into the cities. We haven't heard from them or seen them at all today.

COOPER: But you have no particular knowledge if he was on the bridge at that time. It's just the fact you haven't heard from him which is making you so worried.

FOSTER: Right.

COOPER: Obviously you've tried his cell phone. You've tried to reach him. There's no answer?

FOSTER: Yes. We can't get a hold of them. We've checked at their house. They're not at home. We've checked the spots that we know them to hang out at, and they're not there. That's not very usual for them. We usually see them at least once a day.

COOPER: What are authorities telling you? Have you been able to talk to anyone yet?

FOSTER: No. We haven't heard anything or talked to any of the police to get any information yet.

COOPER: What's the scene like at the hotel right now?

FOSTER: It's just about maybe 15 families in a room, and we're waiting for information from the Red Cross or from the hospitals to see if they're there or have been brought in yet.

COOPER: Have they been able to give any families information, or are you still just waiting for any kind of information? Are all the families still waiting?

FOSTER: I don't think they've given any families any information yet. We're just waiting. It's like a wait and see game.

COOPER: It's got to be an impossible situation. Christy, we wish you the best and we'll keep checking in with you. If there's anything we can do, certainly if Kirk is out there and hears this, certainly he should call in to you or some other family members and let you know exactly where he is. Christy, I wish you well.

FOSTER: Thank you.

COOPER: Another one of our I-reporters, Steve Dworak, got to the scene about 15 minutes after the bridge came down. He captured some of the aftermath on the video. He joins us now on the phone. Steve, in these images that we looked at earlier; I mean it's remarkable when you see this bridge at this violently vertical angle. Had you seen anything like this? STEVE DWORAK, CNN I-REPORTER: I have not seen anything quite like this at all. That's why I was so astonished. Like I said, as soon as I got there I was on top of the bridge. There's a bridge that's actually parallel to it and I was on that and people were trotting around but I'm looking at that and I mean, you only see something like that in a movie. I was just so -- that's when I knew something terrible had happened, that it wasn't just a small little collapse. It was, you know, full fledged. So I just was speechless like everyone around me. I mean there's chaos with you know police officers and ambulances, but everyone's jaws are just dropped like, is this really happening? Did this just happen? I mean because like you said, I mean some of those cars had their emergency brakes on because they're literally vertical from the bridge.

COOPER: And how long did you stay in this location?

DWORAK: I stayed there probably for about five minutes and then I realized the cops said, there's a bridge that's vertical, and the cops had closed the bridge off. A lot of UM students were walking out. I think some of them were going to the Twin's game so this got their attention and everyone started gathering and I knew if I was going to get some good shots, I would have to see what's happening, and I would have to go below, go right on the side of the Mississippi. So I took a big hill, went down, and there and there's a few people that came down there, and went down the steep hill, and we had to cross train tracks. We crossed the train tracks and I actually went under the train to get a better view and kind of climb down. I went through all these rocks and I was probably five feet from the beach. That's where everything happened.

COOPER: Describe the scene in the water to us.

DWORAK: Basically, there's tons of police officers, and they're looking for people and not as many boats were there because I was there right at the beginning, but police officers looking through the water and that's when they had pulled an individual out. People had assisted people a few people in giving this individual CPR for an extended period of time. I mean it was probably a good you know five minutes but seemed like 15, you know, 20 minutes. Then more and more boats at the time went by and started coming. That's why there's dozens of boats circling the outer edges of the bridge and then going even extended farther because bodies had drifted downstream.

COOPER: Steve Dworak, we appreciate you sending in the I-report. Thanks for standing by. That was I-reporter Steve Dworak.

The question, of course, hanging over the night and coming weeks is why. What happened? On the Star Tribune website, we found a link to a report from 2001 by the University of Minnesota engineering department. The bridge that collapsed today is mentioned in the report. Here's one quote that caught our attention. "Concern about fatigue cracking in the deck truss has heightened by lack of redundancy in the main truss system. Only two planes of the main trusses support the eight lanes of traffic. The truss is determinate and the joints are theoretically pinned. Therefore, if one member were severed by a fatigue crack, that plane of the main truss would, theoretically, collapse." Now, at this point, we don't know if steps were taken to address those concerns. However, tonight the Governor Pawlenty said the bridge passed inspections in 2005 and 2006. No doubt that we're going to continue to investigate that in the coming hours and the coming days.

Joining us now on the phone is Mo Eshani who's designed several bridges and now teaches at the University of Arizona. He warns the dangers of aging infrastructure across the country. Mo, as you look at the pictures that we have been looking at now for these last several hours, what strikes you? 426 MO ESHANI: Well, Anderson, you know, structural engineers, we usually design buildings so that if they are going to fail, they would fail in a mode that we call a ductile mode of failure and basically, in that mode, the members would sag and deflect a lot so that they would give plenty of warning before the failure. And unfortunately, the way these pictures at least -- I don't want to rush to judgment but basically, from the pictures that I can see, it seems like this was a brittle failure which could, in fact, be you know as that reporter you just mentioned from the University of Minnesota, in fact, if it was a hinge or bolt failure, that type of failure is brittle so it doesn't really give much warning and basically your structural members snap into pieces.

COOPER: What is the precipitating event that would make it snap? I mean is it one single event, or is it something just over the course of time?

ESHANI: No. In fact, unfortunately, these fatigue cracks, you know if you have a structural member like a bolt or a beam of a bridge, even if the stresses are very low, but if you have over the life of the structure when you subject that element to millions of cycles of very low levels of stress, then you could develop a failure as a result of fatigue. And that may be a cause of -- you know, I think also something that might be of interest to your viewers is that not long ago the federal highway administration prepared a report that was submitted to the U.S. Congress on the status of the nation's infrastructure, in particular, bridges on the federal interstate highway system. And, according to this report, nearly 70% of the bridges on our roadways are either structurally deficient or obsolete. So, really, you know the interstate system was, for the most part, constructed some 50-plus year ago and, unfortunately, we have not paid enough attention to the maintenance of these structures so now we are getting to the point where we might be seeing failures like this more often, unfortunately.

COOPER: If you could, just repeat that. 70% of the bridges in the United States?

ESHANI: Yes. Nearly 70% of the bridges are either structurally deficient or obsolete. Of course, the way they had categorized this, this does not necessarily mean that they are particularly unsafe, but some of them could be due to misalignment of the roadway or the fact that they have to be widened. But a large number of them are also -- they have weaknesses. For example, corrosion of structural steel is a major problem in weathering steel or concrete structures. And if you recall, it wasn't long ago, about a year or so ago, that a bridge collapsed in Canada also because of the same type of corrosion and failure of the structure.

COOPER: How long does it take to investigate a collapse like this to truly understand what it was that caused it?

ESHANI: I would guess that it would probably take a good, in the order of months, frankly, to look at this thing. And it all depends actually it would depend on the records that they have on file, which, luckily, it seems like in the case of this bridge there have been some recent inspections in the last couple of years so those would be very helpful in determining, at least at some status of the bridge. Perhaps there are pictures and other types of nondestructive things that engineers look at. Depending on what type of database they have had on that bridge, it could take a few months to come up with a definitive conclusion.

COOPER: We've heard from rescue officials, fire officials, in Minneapolis that they're pulling -- they've pulled people off the bridge, that there are void spaces that they still need to explore, but it's simply at this point, it's too dangerous. I talked to someone from the emergency management office who said that they have engineers on the scene who are trying to examine what remains of the bridge to see if it is -- if and when it's going to be safe enough for workers to go back on the bridge and try to search for any other people who may still be trapped somewhere in the wreckage. What do they look for? What kind of stresses are they now searching for on that bridge?

ESHANI: I think, you know, most likely at this stage when they're trying to rescue anybody who's trapped, most likely they're looking at the safety of the rescuers rather than, you know, those who might have been trapped there. So they want to make sure that the structures or the pieces of bridge are stable as the rescuers try to go under those sections and pull people out.

COOPER: I want to put back on the screen this excerpt from this report of 2001 because it's very confusing. I frankly don't understand some of the language and if I could read it to you and maybe have you explain what exactly it means in sort of laymen's terms. Let's try to put that on the screen. We're still obviously working on getting that, showing you some of the images. These images, of course, were taken several hours ago while there was still light. It is simply pitch black at this point. They have brought in lights to try to illuminate the area, but they are spotty at best.

ESHANI: You know, Anderson, while we are waiting for that, I can tell you that - OK here.

COOPER: Yes. This is from the University of Minnesota engineering department of 2001. This says the approach spans have exhibited several fatigue problems; primarily due to unanticipated out of plane distortion of the girders. Although fatigue cracking has not occurred in the tres deck, it has many poor fatigue details on the main truss and floor truss systems. Concern about the fatigue cracking in the deck truss is heightened by a lack of assessment in this report shows that fatigue cracking of the deck truss is not likely. Therefore, replacement of this bridge, and the associated very high cost, may be deferred.

ESHANI: Well, the point about, for example -- it seems like maybe they have observed that some of the members were twisted a little bit, which is unusual. Usually the beams which are under the floor of the bridge that we drive on, they are supposed to just bend primarily. But if they're subjected to twist as they were indicating in this report, that's a cause of concern. And although you didn't show it now, but I know that when you were showing some excerpts of this report a while ago there was a mention of lack of redundancy.

COOPER: Yes. Actually let me just read that part out because I was reading a different part. This is from page 13 of the report. Concern about fatigue cracking in the deck truss is heightened by lack of redundancy in the main truss system. Only two planes of the main truss system support the eight lanes of traffic. The truss is determinate and the lanes are theoretically pinned. Therefore, if one member were severed by a fatigue crack that plane of the main truss would theoretically collapse.

ESHANI: Yes exactly and that is not a good design. The way most - you know engineers, the way we design buildings and bridges is that we put redundancies in there, which basically means that if one support were to give and fail, the load would have a different path that would be distributed to other supports and then finally find their way to the foundation. And this structure actually would be able to stay up even after one of the supports has failed. Now, if you do not have any redundancy, as this report indicates, then their concern is quite valid, that if you have you know a couple of failures, then there is no other way for the load to kind of make its way to the foundation. And therefore, you would have a collapse of the truss or the bridge. And then they also indicate that some of these connections or these pins and hinges within the bridge, they may have suffered some crack or some cracking or some damage due to fatigue, which would obviously -- and I don't want to rush to judgment again, but if those were the case, if that were the case, then clearly those would be some reasons for this type of failure.

COOPER: But the fact that the bridge was undergoing re-decking work, is that just, you think, a coincidence? Or could that have possibly some sort of impact on the structure?

ESHANI: No. I think that might be a consequence, you know, although sometimes when you -- it doesn't seem in this case at least they were just resurfacing the bridge. But perhaps if they had removed the second part of the concrete totally, that might have contributed to this. But usually resurfacing -- bridges are often times they are designed with a wearing surface that every several years, once that surface is worn out, then they would put another surface on top of that. So it should not really -- the weight of that wearing surface is always included in the design of the bridge so I don't think that that wearing surface by itself, at least as far as the weight of it goes, should have caused this type of problem.

COOPER: Obviously there's a lot of questions still to be answered. Mo Eshani, we appreciate your expertise. Thank you very much.

All of this happened on a crowded bridge in a major American city and chances are hundreds if not thousands of people saw something of what happened. Some of them were close enough we expect they'll carry the images with them for the rest of their lives. Here are some of the stories that are now just coming to light.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got a call from my fiance. We were watching a movie back at our house, and she said that her cousin was on the phone with her and she said that the bridge was collapsing she was on. And she is had to go. We can't get a hold of her anymore. We're just trying to find out if she's OK or what's going on. But we're pretty sure she was on the bridge when it was collapsing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There were a lot of kids that were hurt. There was a guy whose car had fallen in. He said his truck had split in half. He was bloody. His nose was bloody. He was pretty shaken up. There were a lot of kids that were hyperventilating, bloodied up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It just completely gave way, the whole bridge, from one side of the Mississippi to the other, just completely gave way, fell all the way down. I probably had a 30, 35-foot free- fall. And there was cars in the water. There's cars on fire. The whole bridge is down, and there was a school bus right next to me who actually we had to carry all the kids off of the bridge. Find a safe place to get them off and get them off. And it's just incredible. I cannot believe that I'm even talking right now.

COOPER: "360's" Tom Foreman is looking into the structural questions of the bridge. Tom, what have you found out so far?

TOM FOREMAN, 360: Anderson, this conversation you've just been having has been fascinating based on some studies with the American society of civil engineers. When they have looked at what has caused more than 500 bridge failures, not necessarily catastrophic failures, but in the 1990s, 500 bridge failures, in more than half of them, they found water to be an issue, flow of water that scours the bases of these bridges. And look where this is. It's right below a dam here. There's whitewater though here naturally from a lot of natural flow of water and importantly, this area has not had a whole lot of rain this summer but a few weeks ago they had explosive rainstorms here that caused flooding actually along this road much further down. As investigators look at this, one of the questions they're going to have to ask is whether or not, as what happened in so many bridge failures, this caused some sort of scouring of the bases either here or here or up underneath here and that that contributed to this. Or the very issue you talked about, this question of redundancy. Did that contribute to the failure of a joint somewhere? When you were talking about redundancy, several witnesses have said that they saw this thing break up in sections. It was very fast, but some people say the middle went down first. Other people say this part went down, then this part, then this part in rapid succession. That would speak to the very issue you were talking about, a precipitating event. These studies have been done by civil engineers have suggested that in a bridge that has a lot of redundancy, what you would have is maybe a collapse here, but this part, this part, and this part might be able to stand on its own. It's a 40-year-old bridge though. And in many cases, that was not required back then. So when one part of it gives way, it instantly weakens the other parts, and they collapse. So, in fact, what you might have had and what investigators will have to look at is whether or not you had a localized collapse here caused maybe by structural weakness, maybe by brittleness, maybe by water, maybe by all of those things acting together. But did that precipitate this collapse all the way across that happened so quickly that the appearance was that the whole bridge just went down at once? That's what they're going to have to start looking at very seriously right away, Anderson.

COOPER: You know Tom, we've been getting a lot of e-mails from viewers asking about the train that was also crushed under the bridge. There were two cars of the train that apparently were crushed. There were no, as far as the reports that we have, there were no people aboard those two cars who were injured or there were just no people aboard those two cars that were crushed. Some people are asking, is it possible part of the train hit part of the bridge and that maybe what caused that? I suppose assume ...

FOREMAN: That's an excellent question, Anderson but I have to point out something. There's no indication that that is what happened. However, one of the other prime causes for bridges collapsing, when you get past water tearing up the bottom here, is a boat or a truck or a train or something colliding with one of the pilings underneath. Now, everybody says that was not the case here, but that is a very good question to ask. And again, something that the very goodors will have to look at and say, was there some kind of contact that set up an imbalance? Because, again, bridges look very static to us. It doesn't look like much is going on but these are very dynamic structures that -- think about this. If nothing else, year in and year out, it's dealing with this enormous pressure of the Mississippi River against it all the time, one of the great rivers of America. That's an enormously dynamic force that it's facing all the time.

COOPER: Tom, I don't know if you know this. I'm trying to find out; do you know how deep the Mississippi is at the point of this bridge?

FOREMAN: I don't know how deep it is at the point of this bridge. It's not a shipping channel here so it's not that deep. When you get further down, of course, it's been dredged to take huge ships. But that's not the case here. So I don't even have a guess really as to how deep it would be here. Old river, though.

COOPER: OK. We'll keep looking for it. Tom, appreciate that. We've got a tape of a survivor. He talks about literally falling off the bridge or falling with the bridge as the audiotape from the local paper, the Star Tribune. Listen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About half the bridge is in the Mississippi River. Half of it is on the ground. I fell probably about 30, 40 feet, landed on the shore of the Mississippi. I'm so lucky to be alive. On the way down, I thought I was dead. I literally thought I was dead. My truck was completely face down, was pointing towards the ground, falling towards the ground, and my truck got ripped in half. When I got over to my truck, it was folded in half. And I can't believe I'm alive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was pointing towards the ground, falling towards the ground, and my truck got ripped in half. When I over got to my truck, it was folded in half. And I can't believe I'm alive. The reason is I was wearing my seat belt. I had my seat belt on and if I didn't, I don't know what would have happened. I probably would have went through the windshield. I'm lucky I only have a cut on my face from the steering wheel.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. I saw a tanker go head first into the water and it was only about five feet of the back end was showing out of the water. No. That's actually up farther on the bridge. I was down towards the water more. The car that was on fire, there's -- they're lucky -- they fell about ten feet. That might be the school bus that was actually -- we ran up the incline, fallen 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: Did you have time to see this? Because you said you were going less than 10 miles an hour.

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

COOPER: One of the survivors from the bridge. Joining me now is Kevin Gutknecht. He's public affairs officer for the Minnesota department of transportation. Kevin thanks for being with us. At this point, what are you focusing on?

KEVIN GUTKNECHT, PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICER, MINNESOTA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION: Well right now I know what's going on at the site is recovery operations, trying to maintain public safety and try to get whoever is there and maybe trapped out of the situation. And then tomorrow we'll begin to assess the bridge and try to figure out what happened.

COOPER: We heard from the chief of the fire department probably about almost an hour ago now who said that operations in the water had ceased. Is that actually correct?

GUTKNECHT: If that's what he said, that's correct. It's dark here now.

COOPER: OK. Currently, are there any other operations going on, on the bridge itself?

GUTKNECHT: Not to my knowledge.

COOPER: OK. To your knowledge, what is going on, on the scene?

GUTKNECHT: Well, understand, Anderson, I am not at the site so I can't tell you exactly what's going on at the scene. But I know that they're continuing to look for people. They're -- and as far as the department of transportation, we're planning detour routes so that we can route traffic around that for tomorrow. We'll have those in place within the next few minutes.

COOPER: Appreciate you joining us. Thank you, Kevin. I know you've got to go. You're very busy. Kevin with the department of transportation.

As disasters scenes go, this one is certainly overwhelming. The U.S. Coast Guard has told us there are anywhere between 30 and 50 cars in the water. Joining me now is Pete Gannon who trains rescue divers. Pete, the chief of the fire department saying a short time ago about an hour ago that it's simply too dangerous to have divers in the water. Explain why that is the case. What is the environment that they're dealing with?

PETE GANNON: One of the things that they're dealing with is they're dealing with some weather. They had some weather come in up there, lightning in the area. I'm down here in Florida. We just had a diver killed when his tank was hit by lightning. So again, that's one thing. You have jagged metal under water. The divers need to have proper protective equipment on, full face mask, dry suits because of all the contaminants that are in the water. There's biohazards. You can see in the pictures there's a lot of fuel that's slick on the water. It's fuel. Now that fuel is going to get in their system if they're not wearing all the protective equipment. It's a lot easier to see during the day. You also need to watch the divers' bubbles because you can tell if the diver is breathing properly, if he's getting too tired. You should be able to see a lot of that through the bubbles. So a lot of it for the surface part is going to be visual, but for the divers themselves, they have to slow down now and do everything right. We have about 80% of our public safety diver fatalities happen in this kind of mode, what we call the recovery mode or training, is when the accidents happen because there's just so many different things that we're involved in. So they need to use extreme care when they do this. You know, their protection is of the highest priority of the divers.

COOPER: We are seeing this young woman, who at great risk to herself, is just you know heroically trying to find anybody alive in these submerged vehicles. She's got you know really nothing but a rope tied around her waist. She has something of a life preserver, but she's going in these cars looking for anyone. At this point, though, we heard from Jim Clack, the fire chief, who said the likelihood is getting fairly slim of finding any survivors. I mean finding somebody in the water after this length of time is alive would be virtually impossible. GANNON: Yeah. That's correct. You know, there's the air pocket myth is not there. There's not really going to be an air pocket. However, you could maybe find a car that's under the bridge that's not submerged that the divers may have to go under some obstacles to get to it tomorrow. But they need to do that during light.

COOPER: And in terms of searching, you were saying it can take as much as 15 minutes to actually search a submerged vehicle. And there were some 50 cars in the water. And it's not just searching that vehicle, correct?

GANNON: Right. It's not searching the vehicle. It's searching the area around the vehicle. The victim may have got out of the vehicle, but then the vehicle or I'm sorry. The person couldn't swim. They can't make it to shore. So they may have drowned in that area. So the divers need to search the entire area, not just at the bridge. The current could also take the body downriver. There's some victims, they don't sink when they drown. Some still float. So they could be down river also. So your area now expands a whole lot larger than just in the bridge area. And I know there's a lot of great teams in that area. At Dive Rescue International, we've trained a lot of the teams there. So we that know their primary concern for all the divers is safety, and that will be the primary concern, just making sure that all the divers stay safe in the next several days that they'll be doing these dive operations.

COOPER: In terms of visibility, even in daylight in this kind of water, what's the visibility?

GANNON: The visibility is zero. You can actually see the water. It's kind of an orangish color. At least it is on my TV. In the majority of these rivers that flow like that, they're carrying so much debris from the sides. You've got plants and chemical plants. There's road wash-off that goes into this river so you've got all this contaminant going down these rivers and now these divers are going to have to go into them. So they can't see anything. Everything is going to be done by feel. So it's going to take a long time to go step by step to feel all of these different spots. So it's going to take quite a while to do this search.

COOPER: That just sounds incredibly dangerous if you're going by feel and touch and there's twisted steel and metal and shards of concrete. You don't know what you're stepping into.

GANNON: Correct. You have to really be careful that you don't get entangled in any of it. The divers will probably or should have underwater communications so they can communicate with the surface to advise them if they do get entangled. There's a back-up diver and then there's another 90% diver that's ready to go behind that diver. So every diver that's in the water, there's two backup divers. There's a team leader, a line tender for each diver. Underwater communications is essential in this to make sure that it's done safe. Dry suits, full face mask, all these are the essential products that they're going to need to do these dives and to do them safely.

COOPER: It's got to be exhausting, too. How long can a diver go for?

GANNON: Probably a diver will stay in the water maybe 30 minutes at the most because it is exhausting. You can't see what you're doing. And you just need to go slow and methodically check every car, front seat, back seat, around the car. All that has to be checked. And then you've got all the jagged metal down there. You've got concrete that could be hanging underwater that the diver is not going to be able to see. So, you know, these guys are really -- they're going to be put to the task up there to do the best they can, and the biggest concern is their safety. You know, that's the biggest concern from now on. We get into the recovery mode is safety of the rescuers or the recovery personnel. That's going to be the primary goal.

COOPER: And that was echoed by Jim Clack, the fire chief in Minneapolis who said that you know they want to be careful not to hurt any of the rescuers as this now transitions into a recovery operation. Pete, appreciate you being on again; Pete Gannon who's trained a lot of divers in his time. Truly remarkable men and women who do this job.

We're seeing some of the images of the bridge. Of course, we've been looking at images of the bridge as we now see it. We thought it would be worthwhile to look at some of the images of the bridge as it used to be. It really boggles the mind to see it as it was before and as it is now. This is what the 35W Bridge looked like before the accident, one of the Twin cities major arteries. Now, the after. The picture speaks for itself. Just the complete collapse over multiple sections is what has so many people simply stunned. Let's go back to local radio broadcaster Ian Punnett. He's at FM107. He's had the tough duty talking to some of the local clergy who are providing comfort near the scene. Ian, what are they telling you?

IAN PUNNETT, FM107 RADIO HOST: Well it's an interesting question actually is whether it is comfort at this point. Mostly it's just what they would call a ministry of presence. The comfort is in trying to provide information and to have somebody to whom they can talk. In fact, the calls that have been coming in here at the Holiday Inn at the Metrodome, Anderson, have been mostly from around the country, as I understand it. About 30 different people have been talking to the six to eight chaplains that are gathered here at the hotel. A Roman Catholic priest is here, a Baptist minister, Methodist minister. In fact, scientology has sent over a couple of chaplains as well. And they're here to take the names of the people that family members are looking for to try to help them make contact specifically with emergency services, if possible. But also just to try to hear their story and to wonder with them whether or not that missing family person could have been on that bridge and give them more information about the time of the collapse and some of the other things which we have heard concerning the crash scene.

COOPER: And Ian, where you are, you know we heard from one family member searching for a -- a woman searching for her brother, Kirk. There are going to be so many people like that who, for one reason or another, cannot get in touch with their loved one who travels over that bridge routinely or maybe was traveling over at that given time. How organized right now is -- I mean, are they getting the information? Do they have the information of the license numbers of vehicles that are in the water? Are they releasing that information to families?

PUNNETT: I've asked several times that specific question; do you know the makes and models of the cars? Had you gone through the videotape? And the people I spoke with say they do not know if that's been done. T hey may be doing that as they speak. There were a couple of cars that were upended enough that you might have been able to get a license plate from them, but there is no central list. You know if you were looking for somebody driving 1997 Mercury Merkur, is there one on that list. There isn't a central list yet that we've been told about. I talked with Pastor Mark Nelson of Peace Lutheran Church in Bloomington who is here. He said that people are asking even just sort of general questions. They don't even necessarily know that they're counting on the chaplains or the Red Cross services to give them that specific information. They just kind of want to know what the timeline is, when are they going to go back into the water and concerns of that nature.

COOPER: Well, it's just going to be a terrible night for so many families just waiting for some sort of word. And of course, word that operations in the water itself have been suspended for the evening, certainly just add to that pain. Should just give out this Red Cross number. It is for anyone, families or people who think they may be connected to this in some way, possible victims or family members of them. The number is 612-871-7676. That's for the Red Cross for people who may believe they know someone or are worried about somebody. It's 612-871-7676. That's a different number if people are interested in how they can help or donate blood or make donations. The Red Cross recommends going to their web site for further information on how to do that. This number that they're giving out, 871-7676, specifically though they said is for people who feel they may be in some way connected to this and need somebody to talk to about it. There's still a lot of information we don't have. We don't know how many cars that are currently in the water have been searched. We don't know if all the cars on the bridge - well we know that all the cars on the bridge have not been searched. There's some areas of the bridge which have not been searched. There are void areas, as the chief of the fire department talked about, which have been too dangerous to go to search. And given the nightfall now, which will not be searched likely until daylight. We are seeing obviously old video of rescue efforts in the water, valiant, heroic efforts by this woman in particular and by so many others, people who just ran to the scene, firefighters, police officers, who it was their day off. Nevertheless, they just came in. They ran to the water. They tried to do what they could to help people. We've been talking to Ian Punnett who's been reporting from the scene all night. We want to thank him for all of his reports.

Earlier tonight, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty spoke to the media. Here's a little bit about what he said.


GOVERNOR TIM PAWLENTY: Obviously, this is a catastrophe of historic proportions for Minnesota. Right now, we are focused on making sure we do anything and everything to respond to the needs of those individuals who may have been harmed in this incident. So the mayor described a 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 EMS technicians, it includes the sheriff's office, it includes the 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. First and foremost, we want to say to the families who are being impacted by this that our hearts and prayers are with you. We also want to make sure that you know that we are doing everything that we can to make sure that we respond as quickly as we can to the needs of this emergency. There are a couple of other just quick items, and then we'll 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. We've 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 - well 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 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. It started recently. It was scheduled to be completed in September of 2007. We also, of course, once this initial response is conducted, we will also be working to deal with traffic issues and rebuilding issues and we'll 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 (ph) counsel and others to try to plan for those scenarios but frankly right now we're focused on the rescue and recovery efforts.


COOPER: One of the most remarkable stories probably to come out so far about what happened on the bridge is the story of the children on board a school bus that many of us watched throughout the early evening perched precariously. The bus had of course been emptied by then. There was a fire in a tractor trailer right next to the school bus. There were some 60 people on board that bus. Nina Jenkins was one of them. She was 12 years old. She was on the school bus when the bridge collapsed. Everyone on board that bus survived. Some ten people, children mostly, but also at least one counselor from that group of 60 went to local area hospitals. Nina is back with her mother tonight. She has a lot to talk about. She's 12 years old. I talked to her earlier tonight as well as to her mother, Christy. Here's some of what she had to say.

Nina, how are you doing?

NINA JENKINS: I'm doing good.

COOPER: What happened today? What did you see?

JENKINS: I really didn't see nothing, but it was like more of the feeling. Because it was kind of -- it started out kind of like a little rocky. And then it kind of -- it was kind of like it went up and then -- because, like, it just like went up and then it just dropped. Because we went with the bridge, as you see it on CNN. It was like the bus went with the bridge. A lot of the little kids got hurt.

COOPER: So at first the bus seemed to go up? The bus went up first?

JENKINS: Yes. It was, like -- because it was, like, a little crack, I guess, so the bus kind of like went up and then went down.

COOPER: How far did it go down?

JENKINS: Like I could say about -- it was, like, a really deep drop though. It was, like, really deep.

COOPER: What did you think was happening? What did you think was happening?

JENKINS: I felt like because it really felt like it was like the bus was trying to, like -- like the bus driver, Kim, it was like -- the bus driver felt like it was shaking, like -- so then I think what happened was she went a little fast so that she can, like, try to get over the bridge. But after that happened, the crack, it kind of went down. Then she put on her brake.

COOPER: How did you get off the bus? How did you get off the bus?

JENKINS: This man named Jeremy Hernandez because I think he like first saw it, like, what happened, so that he busted open the back door of the bus, and then he was telling everybody to get out from the back of the door. And then we jumped into the little the highway. And then we jumped off from the highway up to the sidewalk. Then neighbors were helping us try to get out.

COOPER: It must have been very scary for you.

JENKINS: Yes. It was scary. It was terrifying. It was sad because a lot of the little kids got hurt. But it was lucky because everybody survived from it so that was kind of good. COOPER: That was Nina Jenkins who has quite a story to tell for the rest of her life no doubt. I talked to her mom, Christy, who says she thinks Nina is doing OK.

These are some of the new pictures, some of the I-report pictures we have been getting in and you know we have been looking at these pictures for hours, but every time we get in these new pictures we see it from a slightly different angle. There, of course, the school bus with the tractor trailer on fire just feet away from it. Those schoolchildren having exited out of the back of the bus thanks to the work of a young man, Jeremy Hernandez, who had the presence of mind to kick open, according to Nina Jenkins, the rear door of that school bus and help get all those 60 people off the school bus. Just one of the stories that is slowly starting to emerge from this horrific night in Minneapolis. Randi Kaye who spent a lot of time in that great city is joining us now. Randi, this -- what is the city going to wake up to tomorrow just in terms of you know beyond the horrific human cost, just the nuts and bolts of where the city goes from here.

KAYE: Well, I know, Anderson, that they are trying to reroute, thinking about rerouting and how they're going to reroute some of this traffic for tomorrow morning for the morning commute. Unfortunately, even in a case like this, you have to think ahead and about think how people are going to make it to work tomorrow or make it to wherever they need to get to. But this really, this collapse and this disaster, is going to change the complexion of the twin cities, Minneapolis-St. Paul, for years to come probably. Who knows how long it will take them to repair this bridge, if they will be able to repair it. And people tomorrow and certainly tonight at this point are already thinking about different ways to get around. There's other highways, certainly other ways to get around, highway 94 connecting to 694, but it certainly brings people far out of their way. So that's certainly one thing that's being thought about tonight. I think too a lot of people there, Minnesota, having lived there for seven years, it's a very close community, and the kind of place where everybody really does help everybody, as you can see in the rescue efforts tonight. And I think there's a lot of people already mourning those lost and figuring out what they can do. I think there's a lot of people who have been rattled tonight. There's at least four other bridges that cross that Mississippi River. Certainly folks going to be nervous starting tomorrow just about getting around the twin cities and crossing other bridges.

COOPER: Well, it's going to be a long night for families who are still waiting for some sort of word. These are some of the pictures, the still photos, taken earlier. These are now live pictures from the scene from one part of the scene. You can see one part of the bridge there off to the right-hand side. Obviously, rescue efforts, recovery efforts, even in the water have stopped for the evening. That according to the chief of the Minneapolis fire department, Jim Clack, who has said it is simply too dangerous to try to operate in the waters currently. Also, Randi, we're learning that operations on the bridge itself have been scaled back. Again, these void spaces that they still need to search will most likely be searched by day tomorrow morning. And, Randi, you know you've got to think about all the people out there who are still waiting for word on their loved ones.

KAYE: Absolutely. And Anderson, I have to tell you I'm actually one of them. I still have quite a bit of family there. My in-laws are there, my brother-in-law, my sister-in-law. And we've been trying to reach them. And as you know, they've asked people not to use the 612 area code or 651 area code, which are both there. But my brother- in-law goes back and forth between Minneapolis and St. Paul several times a day. And we're certainly worried about him tonight. So I can definitely understand what all those people are going through, especially knowing how many cars must have been on that bridge and how many ended up in the water.

Again, the Red Cross has put out a number for people who are, like Randi, concerned about loved ones, the number being 612-871-7676. It seems, though, at this point there is no sort of central list or even vehicle description of the vehicles they have found. That is something some of the family members have been requesting, according to Ian Punnett from FM107, a reporter we've been talking to throughout the evening. He is at the staging ground where many family members have been gathering, trying to find out whatever information they can. But it is early hours still. There is still much that is unknown. It's not even clear we know exactly how many vehicles are in the water. A report of 50 vehicles, according to the coast guard and several other sources who have told us that. The mayor of the city had said that at least 50 vehicles had been searched. It's not clear if those 50 vehicles were the same 50 vehicles that were in the water. So we don't know if all the vehicles that are in the water, Randi, have been searched. And clearly there are some pockets on this bridge, some vehicles crushed on this bridge that have not been searched. And there's no telling what they may hold.

KAYE: And certainly there's no telling, Anderson, how long it's going to take for them to get to all of these cars that are smashed under that concrete. This area there, even just getting to the area alone, the riverbank there is very, very steep. I've been to that area many times. The water isn't exactly very rough, but it certainly doesn't take a lot to make it very difficult to search that area. Certainly is in the darkness, which is probably why they've called that off. But not very is rough because it's in between a couple of locks. It's going to take some time, I think, certainly to get from car to car, and try and find out if there is anyone left there. And sadly tonight they're already talking that this is a recovery effort at this point.

COOPER: Seven is the confirmed fatalities at this point. But according to just about everybody, the mayor, the governor, it is likely that that death toll will rise. Governor Tim Pawlenty earlier calling this a catastrophe of historic proportions for Minnesota. There is no doubt about that, as we look at these pictures, both live and taped pictures and still photos. The violence of what happened along this stretch of the Mississippi River is simply hard to fathom. You can look at these pictures for the last four or five hours, as we have been doing, and yet it is still hard to understand how it could happen, how it could happen so quickly, so massively. It's not just one section of a bridge but several sections of a bridge seeming to collapse one after the other. It all happened so fast. So many of the eyewitnesses have talked about that, have talked about the sound that they heard, the plume of smoke that they saw rising over the Mississippi River, and the silence that descended on the scene, the strange silence that descended on the scene before the police arrived, before rescue workers arrived, when people stunned took by the banks of the Mississippi watching what had been this great expanse of steel and concrete saw it just simply crumpled in the water. There was silence. We heard that over and over again today.

And then, of course, there were screams and there were people diving into the water to help one another. We will, of course, continue to cover this all evening long as events warrant it. We, of course, will be in Minneapolis tomorrow. Randi Kaye, I wanted thank you for joining us, who has spent a lot of time in this city. We wish you and your family well. Fredericka is going to be joining us right now in Atlanta. Fredericka Whitfield joins us now. Fredericka, it is going to be a very long night for the people in Minnesota and especially in Minneapolis.

FREDERICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is indeed. Even though they have suspended the search efforts overnight, Anderson, clearly a number of family members who are still waiting word to find out if their loved ones happened to be on that bridge when it terribly collapsed the way it did. It's going to be indeed a very long evening.

We're going to continue our coverage here throughout the night to keep you updated on the efforts that are still under way, especially as so many people are being hospitalized in the Minneapolis area. So six hours later now after that deadly bridge collapse in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and what was a rescue operation has now turned to recovery but again it has been suspended overnight into the darkness.