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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Further Coverage of Bridge Collapse in Minnesota

Aired August 2, 2007 - 01:00   ET

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


FREDERICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: 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. Put simply, that means searchers don't expect to find any more survivors when they do resume their search come daybreak.
At this hour, officials say seven people are dead, and they expect the death toll to rise. The Minneapolis fire chief says it appears the collapse was not an act of terrorism but was a structural collapse. A structural team has been on the scene for several hours to assess the damage.

Just to give you an idea, through this Google Earth, exactly where we're talking about here in Minneapolis, this is the 35W, this spanse of bridge we're talking about. The southbound lanes are what collapsed when many commuters were on this bridge in the middle of rush hour, when simply it buckled and collapsed. It's believed that some 50 vehicles may have plunged to the depths there in the river. As I said, they are unable to resume the rescue efforts overnight into the darkness right now, but they were able to rescue a number of people, who were on that collapsed steel and concrete structure. About 60 people being are hospitalized right now. Again, seven people have been killed.

Officials say that there was some work being done on that bridge. They had inspected it completely in 2005 and in 2006. They were right now doing some concrete repair as well as some joint repair, and the expectation was they were going to complete their work on that bridge by this fall. Randi Kaye has been covering this situation. She's from the Minneapolis area and brought us this report earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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 just broke apart, sending cars plunging into the water, others teetering on the edge, panicked drivers trapped inside.

UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: 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, then IT 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, and then collapsed into the Mississippi River below.

UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: It just completely gave way, the whole bridge, from one side of the Mississippi to the other, just completely gave away, fell 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 PARTICIPANT: I realized that the school bus was right next to me. 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 safe lives before the mighty Mississippi could swallow them.

UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: Did see some get out through their sun roofs and check on others.

UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: 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 and falling towards the ground. 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 safe 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 potholes and resurfacing the bridge. Still unclear if that caused this. Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: The American Red Cross was on site at the scene of the accident immediately after it happened and offered aid and counseling to the 60 kids who were on the school bus as well as to other survivors and family members. And if you want to find out what you can do to help, you can contact the twin cities chapter of the Red Cross at 612-460-3700, or redcrosstc.org.

Now our law enforcement analyst, Mike Brooks, is with us. He often joins us when we talk about things of public service and law enforcement response, emergency response. We called upon you this time because, not only do you know about the emergency response that is occurring there in the twin cities, you know Minneapolis well. You know this 35W. Give me an idea of what folks on the ground there are telling you about not only just the structure, the kind of work that was being done, but how traveled this 35W is on regular basis. MIKE BROOKS, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Fred, the 35W is one of the main arteries in and out of Minneapolis. You know you've got Minneapolis and St. Paul. You've got all the surrounding areas. I lived in a little town called Apple Valley which is just south of the city. And I in fact, at this time last year I was in Minneapolis doing a radio talk show with AM 1500 KSTP and I used to travel across this bridge all the time, almost every single day. And it is one of the main arteries. Now, people who were there, so all my sources there on the scene were telling me that apparently there was bridge work being done. They were working. They had shut a couple lanes of the bridge down. They were using still two lanes. It was bumper to bumper traffic during rush hour. They were using apparently adhesives repairing cracks in the bridge. And you know you see people doing repair work on the roads there all the time because in the wintertime, you know it's such extreme cold. In the summertime, you have temperatures there the other day in the 90s and they were also apparently were using some arc welders repairing some well points in the structural part of the bridge. You had contractors there.

WHITFIELD: These are not unusual things.

BROOKS: No.

WHITFIELD: But these are just pronounced things to be aware of because of the kind of structural damage that we're talking about now.

BROOKS: Exactly. You had contractors there as well as people with the Minnesota department of transportation. We call it Mn/DOT up there. And apparently, this occurred while they were working on the bridge. They say that what they were doing didn't cause the collapse of the bridge, but I can tell you the national transportation and safety board, they had one person on scene there tonight. There are more people coming there in the morning, as well as, you have the secretary of transportation who is going to be there in the morning, as well as, the two senators Norm Coleman and the other senator there from Minnesota. They're supposed to be there on the scene in the morning. But this is one of the most heavily traveled roads in Minnesota, in Minneapolis, that goes across the Mississippi River and just upriver from there you have a dam. Hopefully they'll be able to bring -- they're going to have to because with at least and my sources there at the scene were telling me at least 50 cars, 50-plus cars, that are in that river right now. Now, the search and rescue operations we know now it's going into a recovery mode. But let's think on a positive side of this because having worked in confined space and collapsed rescue, I can tell you that when you have pancaking like this like we've seen in the pictures all night long, there's a possibility -- again, possibility that there could be some void spaces where people in some of these vehicles could still be possibly alive.

WHITFIELD: And that is hopeful because we are talking about a 60-foot drop.

BROOKS: It is. Exactly. It's 64 feet from the bridge down to the river.

WHITFIELD: Yes.

BROOKS: But when you have the pancaking of concrete and of the superstructure we've seen, of the tangled metal, there's always a possibility there could be people in these void spaces. So that's something I always, as a rescuer, when I went into a scene, it would be terrible but I was always going there with a positive mind thinking there's a possibility.

WHITFIELD: But what kind of apparatus would be used in this kind of recovery or even if it still can be a rescue effort?

BROOKS: Right. Well you know they say it's recovery, but they're still going to be looking for any survivors whatsoever but I can tell you the Minneapolis fire department, they have an excellent technical rescue group there. They have a number of heavy-duty rescue squads that are part of their technical rescue operation. I spoke with --

WHITFIELD: Would there be barges involved?

BROOKS: Exactly. And you're going to have to bring the barges from downriver and it's, you know, it's different depths. Some of it's shallow, some of it deep along the Mississippi there. And they're going to have to bring barges up with heavy-duty construction equipment to get the cars out and also to move pieces of debris so they can get to the cars that are in the river. You know earlier this evening, they had suspended the dive operations. They suspended them for the night now because of visibility issues. But earlier tonight they had suspended it because there was a small front moving through. But they're also worried that there was going to be possible additional collapse of some of the pieces that are already in the river.

WHITFIELD: That had to be a tough call to make, though, a real hard call to make because just the sense of urgency.

BROOKS: Absolutely.

WHITFIELD: Not wanting to waste one minute just in case there is you know a survivor or two beneath all this concrete we're talking about.

BROOKS: Right.

WHITFIELD: But at the same time when you run the risk of the rescue team as well dealing with this kind of heavy matter.

BROOKS: Sure. You had private citizens jumping in the water trying to lend their assistance but you also had the professionals there. One of the things you always think about, as a former incident commander myself, I can tell you one of the things you worry about, you worry about getting the people out, the victims who are there. But you also worry about your team. You don't want to add to the body count that's already there, you know. It's sad to say, but you want to make sure your people are safe while they're still operating to save the other people. I can tell you also there is a mutual aid pact in the Minneapolis area. In fact, I spoke with a chief of police who's just south of the city tonight and he told me that two of his men were part of a Dakota county team that were going there to assist. It's fire and also police personnel and EMS. They were going there to assist. This is part of the mutual aid agreement they have in and around the Minneapolis area. They were going there to assist because they are specialists in collapse rescue.

WHITFIELD: And it's not going to be unusual if they see other jurisdictions, other states, with their rescue teams, their dog teams, come in to assist.

BROOKS: Absolutely not.

WHITFIELD: Because fatigue will set in. Even if we're you know talking about a new day tomorrow, even after suspended efforts overnight, this is something that just may not be fully exhausted by tomorrow's day end even.

BROOKS: No. It's going to be a number of days before they actually have everything -- before -- I can tell you right now exactly what they're doing. They're at command post figuring out a strategy. What are we going to do tomorrow? What equipment do we need? What resources? What assets do we need to further assist us in our recovery mission? And you know, we're talking dogs, heavy rescue equipment, construction equipment. What can they bring up? Again, we talked about barges a minute ago. Even more manpower because they cannot go with just the manpower they have there in Minneapolis. There was a recall tonight of all fire personnel and EMS and police department personnel in Minneapolis to come back to work. And then you had all the other areas around the Minneapolis metro area that were coming in to help. You're going to need people to relieve because it's going to be a long, long day tomorrow. It's supposed to be fairly warm tomorrow, too. And that really takes it out of you, I can tell you.

WHITFIELD: And even though we heard the Governor Pawlenty stress that the efforts right now, the emphasis is going to be on search and rescue, on recovery. You can't help but wonder about the kind of repair work that was being done on this bridge. You talk about the extensive kind of concrete repair, joint repair, if that's something that should take place while traffic resumes on a structure like this.

BROOKS: Well, I can tell you I'm hearing right now that it's going to be upwards of two years before this particular structure is even probably will ever be open. You know it's going to be at least two years while they're doing all the repairs. And again, I can tell you that Mn/DOT now is going to be looking at all of the other bridges to say OK, let's go back and look at.

WHITFIELD: Yes, across the country. You know there's going to be a ripple effect as a result. Everyone's going to be looking at, wait a minute, 30-year-old bridge, 40-year-old bridge, what's the life expectancy of a bridge that is so well traveled like this one here.

BROOKS: Sure. WHITFIELD: Everyone's going to be re-inspecting and hoping that they're looking at the potential vulnerabilities.

BROOKS: Right. And bridges like this that are in an area like Minneapolis that see such extremes in heat and cold, they're going to be taking a look at all of this. Because it does take its wear and tear on any kind of thing. So you know you're going to have -- right now you have metallurgists that are going to be coming in to take a look at the remains of the bridge, if you will, to take a look, OK where were the stress points? Where did this happen? Where did this originate? They're going to take a look at all of this right now. You know, when daylight comes tomorrow, you're going to see national transportation safety board start their investigation. And when they start their investigation, they're going to be looking at everything. Right now we're hearing that most likely and I'm hearing no terrorism mentioned. But we're going to take a look to make sure that everything was above board, to make sure there was no criminality involved in this at all. I'm just putting that out there just as part of the investigation.

WHITFIELD: They have to exhaust all of those things.

BROOKS: Absolutely. And you know you want to make sure so you're going to have recovery effort on one side. You're going to have an investigative part on the other side. And they're going to be working together over a long period of time here to make sure that there was no criminality involved. To say, yes, OK this was an accident. Now I've heard from two different sources that right now and I think I heard Anderson earlier talk about one of the reporting from a station in Minneapolis that they're going back and taking a look at a 2001 report, a Mn/DOT, a Minnesota department of transportation report, that talked about possible structure and cracks in this particular bridge. So they're going to back.

WHITFIELD: And how they may have been addressed or not.

BROOKS: Exactly. Were they addressed? Were they not addressed? So that's another thing. They're going to go back and take a look at all the inspections, all the reports that were ever done on this particular structure and say, OK, if we saw something, was it addressed? Was it not addressed? And then they're going to go back and look at all the repairs that have ever been done to this particular structure and the other structures because you have northbound and southbound span. We saw the other span right next to it.

WHITFIELD: Right. And you have to worry about that next. We saw a lot of folks who were lined up on that span watching, witnessing, trying to figure out how they can help. But you have to wonder about, you know, is it strong enough to deal with equal stresses?

BROOKS: Absolutely. And it's going to really put a lot of stress on the whole Minneapolis-St. Paul. You know they call it the twin cities. You've got Minneapolis-St. Paul. This was one of the main corridors between Minneapolis and St. Paul and the suburbs. People who live on the north side -- you know, tonight I spoke with someone in Minneapolis and they said that a friend of theirs, they were at a baseball game, Minnesota twins baseball game at the dome, they use the structure to get back home back to Burnsville, Minnesota and they had shut the dome down, weren't letting anybody leave there for a while they were trying to figure out how they were going to have an exit strategy.

WHITFIELD: Mike, we're going to talk some more about this because there are a lot of questions yet.

BROOKS: A lot. Absolutely.

WHITFIELD: We don't have all the answers, but this is part of the exploratory phase that even the investigators are going through, too.

BROOKS: Sure.

WHITFIELD: Trying to weave through all the possible what-ifs. So much more of our special coverage of this bridge collapsing in Minnesota when we come right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Live pictures right now of Minneapolis, Minnesota, hours now after a bridge there collapsed, 35W, the south bound lanes heavily traveled in the middle of rush hour traffic. At least 60 vehicles are believed to have plunged there about 64-feet into the Mississippi River. Rescue efforts have been underway most of the evening. They are now suspended because of the darkness but will resume as soon as day breaks.

We're continuing our coverage throughout the evening. I-reporter beeper from "The Situation Room" right now. We've received quite a response from a number of eyewitness accounts. Mark Lacroix was one of our first of the evening. He tells Wolf Blitzer what he saw from his apartment window.

MARK LACROIX: At about 6:00, like it's been reported, the bridge just collapsed. I mean, it just fell right into the river. There's been construction going on south of this bridge for about a month, and I don't want to say it's related to that, but that's what may happen. The bridge was open. People going back and forth. There was something between 20 and 30 cars, I would estimate, on this bridge when it collapsed. I'm in my apartment about 20 stories up. So I heard this massive rumbling, shaking basically. I looked out my window, saw the last few seconds of it collapse. In fact, I'm actually rather relieved I didn't see the whole thing because, as been reported, there's a school bus there. There's a lot of people who may have been injured or worse.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And what are you seeing now? Because you clearly have an incredible view of what's going on.

LACROIX: Well, there's a number of fire trucks on the scene as well as there's police all over. I want to say they responded rather quickly. I'm watching all the news around to see you know what little bit more I can see and I want to say your friends over at FOX are accusing maybe the police of not showing up because they couldn't see it with their images but I want to say response was rather quick. You know, like I said, there's lots of fire trucks. There was a truck on the road that exploded soon after. Exploded maybe is a little dramatic, but it caught fire rather dramatically and has sense been put out. It's now smoking. There are boats in the water now, rescue boats. There's a lot of people, rescue workers, construction workers as well from the nearby construction who have come over to help.

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

LACROIX: Yes.

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

LACROIX: That's right. You take this bridge north to go to Duluth and you take it south to get to the south suburbs and to get yourself into downtown Minneapolis. Additionally, there are two roads that go along the river on either side that go underneath this bridge. And in fact, one of them I take home every day from work. And I came home from work early today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

BLITZER: So the school bus itself did not plunge into the water. LACROIX: No. Thankfully. I don't have anything more than that.

BLITZER: One of our affiliates, Mark, is telling us that the children got off the school bus. They are injured, some of them, but they did manage to get off the bus. And at least that bus and all those kids did not plunge into the Mississippi River. You say there was some construction going on atop that bridge for the past month or so. What was going on?

LACROIX: You know, I couldn't tell you specifically, although if you contacted Mn/DOT I'm sure they can give you all the details but basically, up and down this section of highway, which is really extensively used, there's been repair to the road. I think they were widening lanes a bit south of the river, but they've been moving systematically throughout while keeping the entire area open. So I can see maybe as you can see from your images or mine, there are traffic cones all along this section. It almost looks like they put them out now, but they've been there for days, weeks. And yes, this section of the bridge was fully open when it collapsed.

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

LACROIX: Well, I see a number of rescue boats out in the center and people filing into it. I also see cop cars which have stationed a number of areas on the east and west side of the river on both sides of the highways. It looks like they're taking statements from a lot of witnesses. There are people around. There's also ambulances, fire trucks. The one car that caught on fire, which has caused the most dramatic display, is currently being hosed down vigorously by a crane hose coming out of a fire truck here on west side of the river.

WHITFIELD: And that an eyewitness account from Mark Lacroix talking to our Wolf Blitzer. And now you're looking at the latest headline from the Minneapolis Star Tribune. This is their website. According to their sources, the number now nine dead, 60 injured. You're seeing the headline right there. 20 still missing after many of these vehicles crashed into the Mississippi River because of this bridge, the 35W, the southbound lanes, collapsing. We've received phone calls from folks all evening, eyewitnesses there in the Minneapolis area. This was the height of rush hour, a very well- traveled bridge. Among them, Tim Davis from Minneapolis, he's on the phone with us now. Tim, give me an idea of what you saw earlier.

TIM DAVIS: Well, I live about a mile north of the bridge itself. And as soon as I heard about it, my roommate was actually heading towards the bridge going to the Twin's game. And he called and said that the bridge had collapsed. So I grabbed my camera and went down with a friend of mine and I literally ran down to the scene with my camera before most of the EMS got down there. I happened to be able to catch a bunch of good photos of the scene itself.

WHITFIELD: And describe some of the images. We're looking at one right now where you can see some of the steel structures just looking like they're snapped like toothpicks. DAVIS: It was unreal. It was like a bomb had gone off down there. The cars were everywhere. When I went up there were girls on their backs screaming in pain and they couldn't move and stuff. I ran around and ended up meeting a police officer who said, stay back. At the time, actually the sandal I was wearing had had broken and so I was walking around barefoot at one point. And so I kind of stepped back and let EMS handle the situation. At that point, I started taking pictures and got a bunch of the guys in the field. You're looking at some of them now. But it was just like a bomb had gone off. It was unreal.

WHITFIELD: Well these are extraordinary images and we're looking from your photography. So tell me about how conflicted perhaps you might have felt to want to jump in or assist or you know continue to take the pictures or do something.

DAVIS: I absolutely wanted to jump in. You know, I had an eagle scout by training and so on. And so if I would have had the chance, I would have jumped in there and gladly helped. But there were enough EMS on the scene and so for me, with the fact that I also had a broken shoe, I stepped back and just kind of captured some images. It was a chance to show the reality of what was happening down there because it was beyond something you can expect.

WHITFIELD: Yes. And you mentioned you had left the Twins game. This is a thoroughfare that you use on a regular basis, I imagine, right?

DAVIS: Yes. I literally live less than a mile north of it, couple of blocks away from 35 myself.

WHITFIELD: Well talk about the dependency that folks there have on this span.

DAVIS: I mean it's an incredibly critical part of the transit system in Minneapolis. You know you can't get anywhere towards south town by freeway unless you take this bridge. You know the nearest freeway is on the west side of town so you have to now literally drive through town to get over there.

WHITFIELD: Then as a citizen, you knew about the kind of repair work that they were doing, or you as a citizen, do you feel like everyone was always informed about bridge inspections, what's the latest outcome from inspections? Or what's the latest work being conducted?

DAVIS: Absolutely. Mn/DOT does a very is good job. I'm a civil engineer myself. And so I've been paying close attention to that. And the bridge repair was all surface concrete rehabilitation I believe is what they called it but you know it was well laid out. They had detour signs, all that type of stuff. There was articles in the paper every weekend saying what roads are going to be closed. So everyone was up to date on what was going to happen there. There was no confusion on that part.

WHITFIELD: I-reporter Tim Davis, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts as well as your images, very riveting images of what took place just over six hours ago.

Let's go now to reporter Dylan Olson, who's a reporter with the Minnesota Daily. He shot his own video as well, joining us live. Give me an idea of what you witnessed today, the aftermath of what really has shaken up an entire community.

DYLAN OLSON, MINNESOTA DAILY REPORTER: Well, wow, that's all I can say. It was really disturbing to see and think about it afterwards. But during it was really interesting to notice that people really don't get a chance to comprehend what is actually going on. And that it's almost seemed like they were at disbelief what had happened. And the people didn't really understand. They were almost, I wouldn't say joyous like an event was happening, but it was really interesting to see that people didn't have -- I've never been to an event quite like this and to see such destruction. And it was really bad, and I got a chance to get the video camera in time to get some decent shots. And hopefully it will give interest to future.

WHITFIELD: And so Dillon, when you did pick up the camera, what primarily were you trying to focus on? You talked to me about, you know, how this hasn't quite sunk in with a lot of people because it is a shocking scene to see this, taking place in your own community. We saw streaming video earlier where it looked like dozens, if not hundreds, of people were on the opposing spans looking in disbelief about what had happened. What did you try to zero in on as you were shooting video?

OLSON: Well, I tried to get close enough to see what was really going on, and I talked to different students that were there, very close to when it had actually happened. And I tried to talk to them and to get their reactions of what they heard and what they saw and what their emotions were during that time.

WHITFIELD: And how are people trying to channel those emotions? What did you gather from them?

OLSON: Well, that's -- to touch back on what I said earlier, that's about it, you know. People didn't really have quite a chance yet to comprehend that actual lives were lost. And that's quite a serious situation.

WHITFIELD: And tell me about how you and others are feeling this evening, knowing that because of darkness they've had to suspend the search and rescue effort. They will resume some recovery efforts and hopefully, if there or rescue missions that can take place by daybreak. Give me an idea how you, you know, feel as a resident there, knowing that really nothing can be done right now overnight.

OLSON: Well, you know, all I can say it's really sad that people lost their life because of an incident that could have been prevented. And hopefully in the future people will take safety precautions in regulating a construction zone and whatever the situation might have been. I mean, we really don't know quite yet what happened.

WHITFIELD: Why is it that you are already - why is it that you feel like this is an incident that could have been prevented? What are you feeling like the kind of knowledge that you had prior to this event or perhaps anybody else about public information about the types of inspections or the condition of that bridge?

OLSON: Not necessarily. I feel that I really don't know too much on the situation, but I would like to see maybe, you know, the precautions taken in the future for incidents like this. And it's not necessarily for me to say that it should be taken and how much time and effort in the future it could take. I mean, it costs I don't know how much or how much time. You know it's just a question that can't really be answered from my perspective, I guess.

WHITFIELD: Sure. It's a very frustrating situation for so many people who are witnessing the tragic loss of so many lives and now the suffering of so many more as well. Dylan Olson, thank you so much from the Minnesota Daily. We appreciate your time and your images. We'll have much more of our coverage of this tragedy taking place in Minneapolis right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: This is the latest information that is on the website of the "Minneapolis Star Tribune" as it pertains to this I-35W bridge collapse. Their information is that nine people are dead, 60 have been injured, 20 are still missing. The search and rescue efforts have been suspended throughout the evening. They will resume by daybreak. We've been getting a number of phone calls of eyewitness accounts. We've been flooded with images people have been taking from the collapsed bridge, looking at this steel and concrete spans, which has just crumbled with what is believed to be at least 50 vehicles that have also plummeted, along with a number of pieces of this concrete and this structure, right into the Mississippi River. Law enforcement analyst Mike Brooks has been along with me throughout the evening. We'll continue our coverage throughout the night. Trying to understand just what may have happened. Of course, officials there on the ground are at the beginning stages. They haven't even really begun their investigation into what happened because the emphasis has been on trying to rescue those that might be rescueable.

BROOKS: Right. But what investigators are also doing right now and what they've been doing since the beginning, they're trying to gather any witnesses, you know anything at all that they saw, that they heard. This all plays into the early parting of the investigation, once you get the Minnesota department of transportation, who's there on the scene already, and you get the national transportation safety board, NCSB to come, when they get to the scene. They had one representative there tonight. They'll have more in the morning. And you have other investigators that are trying to gather all witness statements, just to find out exactly what happened. And another crucial part of this, Fred, is going to be the people who are actually working on the bridge. What exactly were they doing? What exactly had they done prior to this? What had they planned to do? You know was there any spot welding like we've heard being done on the bridge, to the structure, to the superstructure of the bridge? Or was it all adhesive and surface repair? That remains to be seen. But these are all questions that are going to play into this whole investigation. And it's very, very important that early on investigators get those statements so when they get them they can start to develop an investigative packet, investigative case to find out exactly what happened.

WHITFIELD: And what happened prior to executing the concrete repair, the joint repair, what did those inspections reveal?

BROOKS: Right.

WHITFIELD: And why were these measures to be taken to help, you know, clarify or fix any apparent problems.

BROOKS: Right. And they're going to go back years.

WHITFIELD: So these sound like band-aid approaches when you're talking about this huge spans that has now collapsed. Clearly, there may have been much more pronounced, much bigger problems.

BROOKS: It does. But you know when I was living there, you would see construction, you would see repair work going on all the time because they're trying to repair the damage that was done during the winter because of the extreme cold. And you know, you see that most of the time done during the summertime. Now you they're going to go back and again, they're going to go back to going all the way back to when the bridge was built. They'll take a look at all the reports.

WHITFIELD: 1960s.

BROOKS: 1960s, '64, I believe was the date. They're going to go back and take a look at every single report that has ever been done on this bridge and find out, OK, we said there was a problem. Was it remedied? They're going to go back and take a look at all of these to see exactly, everything that was ever done to this bridge. They're going to go back and investigate that, along with you know there's going to Mn/DOT, NTSB, FBI because the FBI's going to be there just in case, just in case, there was any criminality at all involved. You know because we're hearing right now and again, I want to stress this, they do not believe this was terrorism related.

WHITFIELD: Just as a precaution.

BROOKS: Absolutely. I was getting calls from people tonight. You know Mike, do you think this was terrorism? Because you know I spent six years with the FBI joint terrorism task force and you know my focus used to be on terrorism. You know so they're saying hey, have you heard anything? Have you heard any intelligence about bridges? No. We have not. The FBI has no investigation going on in Minneapolis about this.

WHITFIELD: Right. You're just talking about what was heard, eyewitnesses saying they heard a rumble. They heard, you know, this rumbling kind of structure before or kind of sound before the structure started collapsing.

BROOKS: And that would make sense, you know. When you have a structural collapse lake this, such you know a huge collapse like this, something has to give way. Where did it start? Was it at the base? Was it submerged pilings? You know, they go back and I've heard instances before where bridges that are just down from a dam, that they go through that because of the water flow, they undergo more pressure, more structural degradation, if you will, of the base, around the pilings of the bridge than other bridges do. So that's something else that's going to be looked at because it's just down from a dam there on the Mississippi River. You know just upriver is a small dam, and then down further it goes all the way down through Stillwater all the way to where it meets the St. Croix. But where that is right now, there's a dam just above that bridge. So that's another thing they're going to have to take a look at. You know did this play any role in the structural integrity of the bridge? But, again, that huge noise that everyone heard, that noise of the structure, it had to begin somewhere. Where did it begin?

WHITFIELD: It was a distinctive sound as many eyewitnesses said. And I want to ask you when we come back after the break a bit more about the parallel structure. This was the southbound lane of the 35W.

BROOKS: Right.

WHITFIELD: There's a northbound lane. You know, how might Minneapolis now approach that spans and what to do about the many commuters who are going to try and cross it perhaps tomorrow when they go on to resume their daily lives. Much more of our special coverage of the Minneapolis bridge collapse right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Nearly seven hours now after tragedy strikes Minneapolis, Minnesota, you're looking at the steel and concrete structure which simply collapsed. Eyewitnesses said they heard a rumble, and then concrete blocks with many vehicles on them just started descending into the river below, 60 feet below. Casper Hill is the city communications director and is on the line with us now to give us an update of the numbers that the city officially is attributing to this tragedy there in Minneapolis. Mr. Hill, give me an idea of your confirmation of deaths at this point.

CASPER HILL, CITY COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Yes. We have confirmed seven fatalities and another 62 injured, transported to hospitals.

WHITFIELD: And it's still your understanding that at least 50 vehicles may have plunged into the river?

HILL: Yes. There's approximately 50 more vehicles still underwater, and the fire department, Minneapolis fire, is lead agency in this, and it's a recovery mission at this point.

WHITFIELD: And what's your understanding about the recovery mission? We've been reporting that that has been suspended throughout the evening because it's just too dark. It's just too dangerous for emergency crews to be out in the Mississippi River. Is that still the case? HILL: Well, I haven't heard back from the firefighters on the scene. I do know that there is still work going on out there.

WHITFIELD: Well, give me an idea what kind of hope, perhaps, emergency crews have about any I guess gaps in those concrete structures that perhaps some of those vehicles that may be missing may not necessarily be submerged in the river.

HILL: Well, I don't know how they come up with the number of about 50. I believe they've spotted some underwater, and that's where they get their count from. I do know they characterize this as a recovery mission at this point.

WHITFIELD: Can you talk to me about your concerns or the city's concerns about the danger that faces these rescue workers?

HILL: Well, they face danger every day, and they're trained for this sort of thing. And yes, we are concerned about them, but we've got to see -- get to these vehicles and see what we can make out of this.

WHITFIELD: Now what about the other structure, the other spanse, bridge, that is parallel to this southbound structure that collapsed? What is the plan for the morning?

HILL: That plan, we are still working on a morning transportation plan. As you know, that's not the interstate bridge. The interstate bridge is -- that's a city bridge. We have yet to see if that's going to be handling traffic or if that's going to be used for the recovery effort.

WHITFIELD: And so Mr. Hill, can you give me an idea what kind of work? We understand work was being done on the 35W in the form of concrete repair and joint repair. Can you give me a little bit more detail about the extent of the repairs?

HILL: Well, that's -- it's an interstate bridge so that's more of the state authority. They can speak more to that. I did hear reports that it was a resurfacing effort and had nothing to do with structural.

WHITFIELD: Was there ever a concern from the city that repairs were being done while this bridge continued to be a major thoroughfare?

HILL: Well, it was -- what I've heard is it was characterized as a resurfacing effort, and that happens a lot around here during the winter months. The bridges get worn on and we repair them during the summer. So I don't think it was too unusual to have bridge repairs on the surface during that thing. And again, from what I've heard, it's not -- it was on the surface and didn't really involve the structure.

WHITFIELD: This was taking place at the peak of rush hour. I also understand that after the baseball game, the Twins game, this was still a very busy bridge this evening, particularly more traveled than most rush hours or most evenings, or was this an average evening? HILL: It's an average evening, but it was a busy evening. As you pointed out, it was rush hour and this is a major thoroughfare. This connects downtown with the north side, and there was -- it gets a considerable amount of traffic at any given rush hour.

WHITFIELD: There had been other inspections of this bridge 2005 and 2006 were the most recent ones. What's your understanding about how this bridge checked out then?

HILL: Well, I can't speak to the inspections. That's, again, a state transportation matter.

WHITFIELD: That wouldn't be a matter that the city is privy to?

HILL: Well, the city inspects city bridges, and the state inspects the interstate bridges. So, yes I mean, we're probably in touch with that, but we don't really deal with those inspections.

WHITFIELD: OK. And Mr. Hill, tell me about what kind of support you're expecting from other jurisdictions when it comes to support that your fire department may be needing since they are leading up the rescue and recovery efforts.

HILL: Well, they're leading the recovery efforts. And we are getting some help from the county, Hennepin County. And you know, we're getting a lot of support from neighboring communities in the state, and right now we are getting the job done. We're bringing in cranes. We're going to be recovering in the morning. We expect to be at it for the next couple of days at least.

WHITFIELD: All right. Mr. Casper Hill, we thank you for your time. We know it's been a long and very tough evening.

HILL: Yes, it has.

WHITFIELD: And we know it's going to continue to be as well as you go into a new day as your recovery efforts get under way. City communications director, Casper Hill, thank you so much for your time, and we wish you and all those who are working on your recovery efforts the best.

HILL: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: We'll be right back with more of our coverage of this tragedy in Minneapolis.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Welcome back to our continuing coverage. I'm Fredericka Whitfield. The city of Minneapolis is confirming tonight seven deaths, 62 injuries, and 50 vehicles that are still in the water there in the Mississippi River after the 35W Bridge collapsed about seven hours ago. We've been hearing from a number of people throughout the evening, I-reporters. We just spoke with the communications director with the city there who says it is a difficult evening. The fire department is leading the recovery efforts there. They have temporarily suspended their efforts because of the darkness of night but will resume their efforts in the morning. Cranes will be making their way in to help move huge pieces of debris as they continue to try to get to any of these 50 vehicles with hopes that perhaps there may be a survivor or two. One of the I-reporters we've been hearing from throughout the evening was on A60 360. Steve Dworak was a witness and also provided some images.

COOPER: Another one of our I-reporters, Steve Dworak, he got to the scene about 15 minutes after the bridge came down. He captured the aftermath on video. He joins us now on the phone with us. Tell us about what you first saw when you got there.

STEVE DWORAK, I-REPORTER: Yes. I arrived probably about 15 minutes after it happened, and I was on the shore of the Mississippi. And I was probably one of the few guys to come up to the structure early. I saw about five police officers pull an individual out of the water and perform CPR on the individual for about 15 minutes or so. It didn't look like the person made it, unfortunately. And then about -- while I was sitting there, there was a distressed individual who was swimming in the water. Police tried to get him out of the water and he was searching for his daughter. And he's screaming, I think she went downstream. Check farther down. And he's running around, asking people if they saw a little girl between I think around the age of 8 or so with red hair and glasses and stuff. And just so completely distressed from the whole situation.

COOPER: Steve, how long did you stay on the scene? The pictures we're seeing right now, you took this with what, a cell phone camera?

DWORAK: Yes. I have a cell phone camera that's also a video camera. So I was on the scene for a good two hours. And as time went by, they had moved. The police had done crowd control. So when I got there, it was really early so they weren't doing crowd control at the time because they were trying to help as many people as they could. So I was there probably 50 feet from the scene. And then they started getting more and more boats. There was dozens of boats looking for people in the water, pulling people from the water and bringing them onshore. And then as the time went by, the police did crowd control and they moved people farther and farther back until after two hours, I was so far back that I decided to go home to my apartment.

COOPER: And the bridge we're seeing here, I mean it looks like it's just jackknifed almost vertical.

DWORAK: It was extremely vertical. And there are pictures also that I took that the cars -- some of the cars were halfway up or all the way to the top. It was straight up. It's something -- I was telling my mom it's something I would see from a movie. It didn't even make sense, you know. It's unreal.

COOPER: It is certainly unreal and sadly all too real. Steve Dworak, we appreciate you sending us this I-report video, one of our I-reporters. Stick around Steve. We'll talk to you a little bit later on.

WHITFIELD: And among the many people rescued, as Steve Dworak was explaining there, at least 62 have actually been hospitalized. We got this report from a reporter from KSTP at a local hospital a short time ago.

REPORTER: That's right. We just spoke with a woman here who went through the process of trying to find a person here. She came with a relative who was desperately searching for a loved one. She wouldn't go on camera, but she says once they walked through the door they were immediately greeted by both chaplains here at the hospital as well as a group of nursing supervisors. It took just a few minutes for them to find out -- make the connection between the family members and get the loved ones to see their relatives that are here. The woman didn't want to appear on camera. She didn't want to get into details about her loved one and the relative and their situation or their condition at this time, but she wanted to make the point that she couldn't believe how incredibly professional the staff here was at the hospital in such a crisis situation. She said, you know, the people here are doing a really great job. And of course, we want to share that with you as well. And you can tell that there's a lot of people out in the community that are willing to help. We're joined right now by Cory Fishman. Cory tells us that he was actually on the bridge and started taking people rescuing them. Take us thorugh what happened.

CORY FISHMAN: I was coming home around six when it really happened.

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