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CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Minnesota Bridge Collapse
Aired August 2, 2007 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I probably had a 30-, 35- foot freefall.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was completely mangled and I would be shocked if anybody survived.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, up to 50 vehicles trapped in the rubble and the waters of the Mississippi. At least 79 injured in hospitals across Minneapolis and at least four are dead.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There were emergency vehicles going every which direction, downtown Minneapolis.
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KING: After that rush hour horror story, now incredible, harrowing tales of escape from survivors of the bridge collapse.
Plus, the heartbreak of families praying for word on their loved ones. Kids who were in that school bus trapped on the edge of disaster and the heroes who got them out.
And latest on the search for answers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: A bridge in America just shouldn't fall down.
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KING: Why did a bridge traveled by more than 100,000 cars a day, suddenly break apart?
Could it happen to a bridge in your town?
It's all next on LARRY
Good evening and welcome to LARRY KING LIVE.
Here's the latest on that bridge collapse.
Four bodies have been identified. Seventy-nine people are injured. The Hennepin County sheriff says eight people are unaccounted for. Recovery efforts could take five days or longer. President Bush is now scheduled to visit the Twin Cities on Saturday. And his wife Laura will be there tomorrow.
Joining us from Minneapolis is Melissa Hughes, who survived the bridge collapse. She's with her baby, Olivia. The baby was not involved in the accident.
And Gary Babineau, who also survived the collapse.
Let's see what Melissa.
Where were you going and what happened, Melissa?
MELISSA HUGHES, BRIDGE COLLAPSE SURVIVOR, WITH BABY DAUGHTER OLIVIA: I was on my way home from work and I was just driving home and all of a sudden I saw things in the air that aren't supposed to be in the air -- a construction worker, an orange barrel -- and felt a freefall twice in a row and then a huge crash and my back window blew out.
KING: How far did the car fall?
HUGHES: My car, I would say, is probably only about three stories from where the bridge was to where the bridge ended up. I don't know how far I slid backwards, though.
KING: Why are you alive?
HUGHES: Luck. It's a matter of luck and timing. I was at the right place at the right time. I wasn't further down the bridge, unlike others, who aren't in such a great situation.
KING: What's the first thing you did? Did you call your husband right away?
HUGHES: Yes. I couldn't find my cell phone. I searched my car. And once I was out on ground, I called him right away and asked him to bring the baby to me right away so I could hold her.
KING: Did you -- you had to be wondering what happened, right?
HUGHES: Yes. I had a flash while it was happening of, you know, the bridge that collapsed out in California. But then I thought that can't be what's happening here.
KING: Did it make a lot of noise?
HUGHES: A lot of people are talking about all the noise that they heard. I don't remember noise at all. That's not part of my memory.
KING: Oh, did you have the windows shut, the air conditioning on?
HUGHES: And the radio on, yes.
KING: And where is your car now?
HUGHES: I'm assuming it's still on the bridge, but I have no idea.
KING: All right, Gary Babineau, who also survived the bridge collapse, tell us your story.
Where -- what were you driving and where were you?
GARY BABINEAU, SURVIVED BRIDGE COLLAPSE, PULLED CHILDREN FROM SCHOOL BUS ON BRIDGE: I was driving my blue pickup truck on the way home from work. And I was about a third of the way across the bridge -- not over the water. But I could -- out my windshield, I could see the whole bridge. I could see the rest of the bridge, you know?
And I saw the middle of the bridge just give way and cars just disappear and the ground just disappear under them.
And a split second after that, I was falling, too. It's like the concrete just gave way and it was a complete freefall. I probably dropped, you know, 30-, 35-feet and when I hit, you know, we hit hard, so.
KING: Yes, one can only imagine.
But what is it like to freefall in a truck?
BABINEAU: It's -- I remember it really well, too. It's just -- it's kind of like being on a roller coaster, you know?
I've been on roller coasters that just drop. And it's just like being on one of those, except for you know that the outcome is going to be a lot -- you know, it was a lot, you know, more terrifying than being on a roller coaster.
It was like -- it's like nothing I've ever been through before in my life. And it was -- I thought -- when I was falling, I literally thought -- I was thinking of my baby, who is due in two weeks, and there's a good chance I'm going to die right now.
KING: So does there's a helpless feeling about it, right?
BABINEAU: Very helpless. Nothing, -- you know, nothing you can do. Extremely helpless. You took the words right out of my mouth.
KING: Why are you alive?
BABINEAU: God, angels. My seat belt, for one, because the bridge -- the part that I was on, the two pieces of concrete actually came apart while my truck was in the middle of it, I believe, because I did a straight nose dive onto the piece of concrete below. So I had my seat belt on and that -- if I didn't have my seat belt on, I probably would have been through the windshield.
The only thing that happened, I had a little blood on my nose because I hit the steering wheel.
KING: Where is your truck?
BABINEAU: My truck is -- it's still out there. It's lodged in between, you know, the two pieces of concrete. The back end is hanging off of the lower piece of -- the truck bed is hanging off the lower piece and the cab is still on -- on top of the concrete that I landed on.
KING: Melissa, how did you get out of the car?
HUGHES: I was able to walk out of the car. A civilian came up and opened my door and asked me if I was OK. And I said, I don't know what to do.
Where are we supposed to go?
And he said come with me and put his arm around my waist and walked me off the bridge.
KING: Gary, how did you get out of the truck?
BABINEAU: I was going to get out of my truck right away except for I heard the screeching of tires. If you -- if you see my truck, there's an incline above me, on the piece of concrete above me, where the cars were right when the bridge fell. And those cars started falling right as I was going to get out of my truck. I heard the screeching of them coming down. It kind of sounded like cars skidding to a stop, but they were -- they had just kept going and they kept falling.
Three or four cars fell on the left and right of me. And after they stopped falling, I got out of my truck. And I ran to the front of my truck and I looked up and there was one car left, very low, right above my truck. That was -- that was the one car that was really low that didn't fall.
KING: You also helped kids on that bus, right?
BABINEAU: Yes, after I got off of the bridge. They were going southbound. I was headed northbound.
After I got off of the bridge, I ran under the part that -- when I got out of my truck, I heard the screaming kids and I looked over and I saw the school bus. And I just thought the worse. I couldn't believe it, you know?
I heard the screaming kids and I ran under the incline part that fell down. I could get under there. And I ran over, climbed up on the bridge and there was a guy helping kids down. And I was grabbing kids and helping them over to the edge of the bridge and then handing them down to a couple of people that were on the ground.
And then I got -- I jumped down to the ground and was -- were helping the kids that were on the bridge, you know, to the ground and telling them just lean forward, I'll grab you, you know, I promise. KING: Yes.
BABINEAU: And they had to lean forward. They didn't have to -- they didn't have to jump, but they were just leaning forward and trusting me and, you know, it -- everyone just came together and it was just -- everything -- everyone just came together. It was -- we got them out of there fast.
KING: Two lucky and heroic people.
Thank you both very much.
And congratulations. Melissa Hughes, Gary Babineau.
Coming up, you'll hear from some of the people who were inside that school bus we just mentioned that was stranded on the bridge. Details of how they all made it out alive, when we come back.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The bridge on 35-W has collapsed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From one side of the Mississippi to the other, it just completely gave way.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I heard a horrible noise.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The bridge is in half.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The bridge just completely went down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sirens everywhere, people running everywhere.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought I was dead. I literally thought I was dead.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People were stunned. People were crying. People were scared.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was just such an odd site to look over there and see a bridge that used to always be there no longer being there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back on LARRY
And now we'll discuss that extraordinary bus incident in which no lives were lost.
First, though, listen to a young girl -- I think she's about 10- years-old -- calling her mother from the bus.
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UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Momma! Momma! Momma! Momma! Momma! Momma! Momma! The bridge broke and we were crossing it. And everybody -- everybody was scared and crying.
Are you there, momma?
Momma, are you there?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Joining us in Minneapolis, Monica Segura. She was on the bus loaded with youngsters (INAUDIBLE). She's a summer youth staffer at Waite House, the neighborhood center that arranged the bus staff.
Sasha Bouye, she's also a summer youth staffer from Waite House and is a survivor of that collapsed drama on the bridge.
And Tony Wagner is president of Pillsbury United Communities, a non-profit organization in Minneapolis, where Pillsbury is based.
The Waite House Neighborhood Center is part of Pillsbury United.
Monica, what happened for you?
From your perspective, what happened?
MONICA SEGURA, WHITE HOUSE STAFFER ON SCHOOL BUS BRIDGE COLLAPSE: We were on the bus. Everybody was looking at the river, saying how pretty it was and how they wanted to go swimming down to the river. The next thing we know, we just -- it was bumper to bumper and we just went down three -- 30 feet. And that's all we remember, going down...
KING: Did you think, Monica, that -- did you think you might have lost your life?
SEGURA: No. At first we saw dust and we did think that we were dead. But then when one of our other co-workers, Jeremy, got up and just kicked the door open and got us all off, everybody reacted, once he stood up.
KING: Sasha, what happened from -- from your outlook?
SASHA BOUYE, WHITE HOUSE STAFFER ON SCHOOL BUS BRIDGE COLLAPSE: It's kind of the same thing. It was a typical day. We were just coming back from a swimming field trip. Kind of out of nowhere, it was just a loud bang. It was just a total drop, just like a total one level drop. And it dropped three times, three loud bangs like a ladder almost.
There was dust everywhere. We couldn't really see anything. Kids were screaming. We had no idea what happened. We initially thought that a semi-truck hit us, because there was a semi-truck pretty close to us. And we thought we got into maybe a bad accident, until we looked out and realized that there was no more bridge and that we were down on the ground completely and the bus was almost tipped over.
KING: What was it like to fall like that, freefall?
BOUYE: It's terrifying, horrifying and scary. It was a scary -- we didn't even know what was going on. There was -- we were weightless and there was nothing that we could do. All we could do is look at each other in shock and think what could we do. And we couldn't do anything. We could do absolutely nothing.
KING: Tony Wagner, how many children were on the bus?
TONY WAGNER, PRESIDENT OF GROUP THAT ORGANIZED TRIP FOR KIDS STUCK ON BRIDGE IN SCHOOL BUS: There were actually 50 children. Sixty- one total were on the bus, 58 from our organization and the bus driver and two of her children were on the bus.
KING: How's the driver doing?
WAGNER: She's still hospitalized. She and our principal staff person on the bus were the most seriously injured. And they're both -- they both remain in the hospital.
KING: Is everybody else...
WAGNER: They're -- my understanding is...
KING: I'm sorry.
WAGNER: I believe there's one more person in the hospital, but to my knowledge everyone else has been released as of this point.
BOUYE: Yes, another one of our youth staff is still in the hospital.
WAGNER: Jenny is still in the hospital.
BOUYE: She's still in the hospital.
KING: I understand that your counselor, Jeremy Hernandez, is being credited as a hero.
Can you tell us what he did, Tony?
WAGNER: Well, yes. I think he was a hero. And I also think these young women were heroes, as well.
Everybody acted just magnificently. Jeremy was the one, as I understand it, who jumped up and kicked out the door. The bus was lodged to the guardrail and so the front door was not usable. And so he had the presence of mind to kick the door open and immediately start grabbing kids and getting everybody outside the bus.
So, yes, he was special that day.
KING: How are the people at Waite House taking all of this, Tony?
WAGNER: Well, it's -- you know, we're all sort of in a state of shock at this point. The staff, I think, have done a really outstanding job getting everybody together last night and notified and all those sorts of things.
We had all of the families and the children and the parents at the center this afternoon, connecting up -- connecting them up with professional grief counselors and other resources.
So I think we're coming together. We see that -- I know people at that center see themselves as part of a big family and they're acting like a big family that cares for each other.
KING: Monica, do you now have a fear of busses or of bridges?
SEGURA: I'm just scared of bridges and heights.
KING: I don't blame you.
SEGURA: So, yes, I'm kind of...
KING: Sasha, what about you?
BOUYE: The same thing. Freeways for me, the freeway bridge overpass thing. No time soon for me, though.
KING: Yes, well, stay away from them for a while.
BOUYE: Yes, yes.
KING: Thank you very much.
BOUYE: I sure will.
KING: Monica Segura...
BOUYE: Thank you.
SEGURA: Thank you.
KING: ...and Sasha Bouye, thank you.
And Tony Wagner.
Up next, the rescuer whose amazing efforts in the mighty Mississippi were caught on camera. She joins me to talk about it, when we come back.
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CAPT. SHANNA HANSON, MINNESOTA FIRE DEPARTMENT DIVER, SEARCHED RIVER WRECKAGE: Honestly, I wasn't thinking about what's in the water, other than what they train you in swift rescue for, where you're concerned about something snagging you and dragging your line underneath. So we always work on a quick connect with that so that if a land mind gets snagged, we could disconnect it.
I was a little concerned about unstable stuff underneath me that I couldn't see. But being that the cars hadn't moved from the time they had gone in to when I was going into them to check them, I -- we were trained to do the job. You just kind of go in and do it. You don't think about it much until afterward.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's approximately 50 more vehicles still underwater and the fire department -- Minneapolis Fire is lead agency in this and it is a recovery mission at this point.
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KING: Joining us now from Minneapolis is Chief Jim Clack, the chief of the Minneapolis Fire Department, and Captain Shanna Hanson of the Minneapolis Fire Department. That's the brave woman you've seen on videotape repeatedly diving into the waters around the collapsed bridge trying to locate and rescue people.
Chief, what's the latest on the recovery effort at the bridge?
CHIEF JIM CLACK, MINNEAPOLIS FIRE DEPARTMENT: Well, Larry, we are in the recovery mode at this point. The rescues all happened last night before midnight. And so we're going very slow and deliberate to keep everybody safe.
There's still rescue workers down there working and we want to make sure we don't hurt anybody else in this extremely unfortunate and huge incident for our department.
KING: How do you guess as to how many people might be missing?
CLACK: Well, you know, that's very tough. The way the Red Cross does it is that they get calls in from relatives of missing people and they accumulate a list of those calls, and then they try to match them up with people that are in hospitals and that kind of thing, to try and reduce that list.
And, happily, some of that happened today.
KING: Why is this primarily a fire department issue? CLACK: Well, rescue in Minneapolis, and in many cities, is a fire department function. As the incident evolves -- and, in fact, at 8:00 tonight, I passed commanded to the police chief.
When it becomes more of an investigative and a slower-paced incident, the police or another agency normally takes command.
KING: I got you.
CLACK: But for the past day, we've -- we've been the lead agency and a unified command system.
KING: Captain Hanson, how soon after the bridge collapsed did you arrive on the scene?
HANSON: Well, Larry, I actually live close to the scene and I wasn't on duty. And I responded from my house when I heard the sirens. So I was there within minutes, but not with the first arriving rigs.
KING: And a lot of...
HANSON: When I got there, I reported in.
KING: And so you went on duty, right?
Now, a lot of people, tons of people have seen you over and over again going in, coming out.
Why don't you have a wet suit on?
HANSON: Because I responded from my house. I was in uniform. Our guys in our Gumby suits were working the middle pools, which were actually more treacherous at that time. I did have a PFD on and I was doing a secondary search of the cars that you see. And in some cases, a Gumby suit, with its buoyancy, can be a hindrance.
KING: The Mississippi in August, cold?
HANSON: Negative. It's pretty warm.
KING: What can you tell us about what you saw while you were diving?
What were you spotting?
HANSON: Basically it was more of a feel search than a spot search. The water is very murky. Visibility is probably less than a foot at that point. So although you're trying to look and see what you can, you're also feeling all the spaces that a victim could have possibly gone into. And that was actually at least a secondary search of those cars. They had already been searched once in a primary.
KING: Are there dangers connected with the recovery?
HANSON: I'm sorry?
KING: Any dangers connected with recovery efforts?
HANSON: Oh, definitely, sir. There's being in the water. And the swift water part of the rescue is definitely a danger. There can be things underwater that can snag you that you can't see, currents that might change and shift, causing the debris to shift and pinching something in there.
And then, of course, what our state has recently gotten into is the structural collapse. We have a state USAR team now and we have been fortunate enough to receive training in that. So if you can see the structures of the bridge behind us, that was actually probably the biggest concern at that point, having -- all the widow makers and the bridge hanging up over us while we were on the water and on the slabs down there doing the work.
KING: Chief Clack, did Captain Hanson do what she was supposed to do or was that above and beyond the call?
CLACK: Well, it's above and beyond the call to come in from home when you're off duty and do what she did.
She's one of our most highly trained captains. She's been through collapse rescue training, as well as a lot of other specialty training. So we were very fortunate to have her at the incident so quickly.
But it definitely wasn't part of her duty, other than she's a firefighter and we're always out there to save lives.
KING: I know a lot of...
HANSON: Larry, can I chime in on that?
HANSON: Can I chime in on that thought?
KING: Go ahead.
HANSON: I don't believe it was. With all due respect, Chief, that was not above the call. We had -- that was such a small snapshot that you guys are seeing. We had so many guys out there doing so many heroic things and our P.D. Force worked in well with us, the medics on scene were great and our firefighters were out there doing a lot of a lot of -- a lot of really, really dangerous work at that time.
That was just one tiny little snapshot.
KING: Anyway, Captain Hanson, you can prepare for something like -- you can't train for something like this, can you? Or can you?
HANSON: We actually do train for -- perhaps not the exact situation, because you never know exactly how it's going to play out. But since 2004, we've been getting training from SPEC rescue. And they come out and they bring in guys from all the big FEMA teams. And they do training on our site up here. And we work on confined space and doing breaching and breaking, lifting and moving.
So our team that we've been working on -- it's the state team -- has five different cohorts. So it's a more of a regional response team than what you think of when you think of a normal FEMA team.
KING: Chief Clack, I know that a lot of firefighters -- and we've interviewed many, many over the years -- don't like to come forward and talk about what they did.
So I want to salute you, your department and Captain Hanson for doing so. You ought to be very proud of your crew.
CLACK: I am very proud of our whole department in this incident, Larry. It was very challenging for the first few hours. And, as far as I'm concerned, all of them are heroes.
KING: Thank you both very much.
Chief Jim Clack, Captain Shanna Hanson.
Just ahead, a reporter who got to the scene just minutes after the tragedy; another who spent the day watching the recovery efforts; plus the mayor and the governor.
LARRY KING, HOST: Joining us now from Minneapolis is Don Lemon, the CNN correspondent, and Governor Tim Pawlenty, the Republican governor from the state of Minnesota.
You have seen better days, Governor. Is this too soon to make any assessment?
GOV. TIM PAWLENTY (R), MINNESOTA: Well, Larry, first our priorities are to make sure we keep these families and the victims in our prayers and thoughts. We also are grateful for the first responders and the everyday good Samaritans and citizens who responded. And then of course, there's the work of the recovery and the rebuilding and then also the investigation as to what went wrong here. But there's a lot of things that go into that. Clearly this bridge had some warning signs or signals, but not to close it or to, you know, replace it with a new bridge. But obviously there were some warning signs here. So we're going to make sure we get the answers to those questions of what happened and when and how this happened.
KING: Don Lemon of CNN, what has this been like for you from a coverage standpoint?
DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's really been amazing, Larry, and heart-wrenching. You know we're paid to cover these stories and we're paid to tell these stories but no matter how many disasters you cover you can't helped but be touched by it and especially today talking to families who have loved ones missing. They were holding out hope that their loved ones were in a hospital somewhere. And as they were calling and hoping that they were Jane Does or John Does and maybe had bumped their heads and didn't know where they were, were unconscious and they were hoping that they were still alive. And it's amazing when you get the news sometimes as we know it would come inevitably that some of them did not make it.
KING: Governor, are you looking at other bridges in the state?
PAWLENTY: Yes, Larry, today I ordered our Department of Transportation to do emergency inspections of the bridges in the state of priority order, bridges that have the same or similar design as this one fist, ones who fall in a similar safety category as this one second and then all others third. But that's being done and we're reviewing all of our inspection and review procedures and protocols.
KING: Chris O'Connell, the reporter for KSTP, a very famous station in Minneapolis, arrived on the scene about 15 minutes after the bridge collapsed.
What was that like at that moment, Chris?
CHRIS O'CONNELL, KSTP REPORTER: Serene, Larry, I was literally about 100 yards behind me where the bridge buckled on the south side. We came. We saw smoke. We went right to where the smoke was and it was an 18-wheeler pinned -- literally wedged between two sections of highway. And there was -- couldn't have been any chance that driver would have made it out. That 18-wheeler just went up in flames.
I looked right past it. Literally we were 15 feet from this burning 18-wheeler before emergency crews got there. And right next to it there was another Chevy Trail Blazer. I'll never forget walking up to that scene and seeing this SUV just up in flames. And again, I couldn't imagine the driver making out. One of the most horrible scenes, almost unimaginable when I walked up to that scene yesterday.
KING: And mayor -- R. T. Ryback, the mayor of Minneapolis, how's the city reacting?
MAYOR R.T. RYBACK, MAYOR OF MINNEAPOLIS: Well, I think the city is reacting with horror that as any city does when there's this incredible sense of loss. But the city is also doing what we're supposed to do, which is follow the plan we had in place, allow the emergency preparedness operation to go into effect, and then from the -- onto city hall with first responders out on the scene.
And we've done the tough, focused work of getting this recovery going. I think now we're in a different phase. And I think it's a tougher phase on a lot of levels because as the human toll begins to become clear, as these cars and numbers become people, someone's uncle and someone's daughter, it becomes clear the city is going to have some sustained compassion.
So what we're doing is we're keeping our arms open and also staying as focused as we can on the job at hand.
KING: Don Lemon earlier today interviewed the family of a missing woman. We're going to show you a portion clip of that interview. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Did she teach you about strength?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, every single day. I'm 20 years old and she's still teaching me how to be a strong person, a strong woman and to be independent and -- but also how to love and just be there for the people you love.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whatever the outcome, we know that God is with her right now.
LEMON: You're prepared for whatever outcome?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we are. We are prepared.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: And Don Lemon, the tragedy is that woman passed away, right?
LEMON: Yes. We got word late this evening, I guess about two hours ago, Larry, that sadly she did pass away. Her name was Sherry Engerbrantz (ph), and 60 years old. Her daughter, that you saw there, one was 18 and one was 20. She adopted them from Colombia when they were just a few months old. She got one and then went back two years later and got another one. And she was 40 years old when she did that.
She was an amazing woman according to her family. And you know, the husband there, Ron Engerbrantz (ph), was telling his daughters to be positive. And when I asked him -- I said, "Are you prepared for every single outcome," he did -- he said, "I am. And we know that she's with God and she's strong." I think he was giving me some indication that he prepared himself for the possibility that she might die or might have died. And she was -- he just wanted his daughters to be positive about it. KING: Governor, are you expecting something concrete from President Bush on Saturday?
PAWLENTY: Yes. Federal officials on behalf of President Bush have promised essentially limitless help here. We're grateful for that, Larry. It's going to be prompt and we hope substantial. They've already indicated that they would support increasing the cap of $100 million on an event like this and give us all the help that we need. And we appreciate that. And we need a lot of partners, federal, local, state and we're getting it.
KING: A yeomen like day. Chris O'Connell, Don Lemon, Governor Tim Pawlenty and Mayor R.T. Ryback, thank you all for being with us.
After the break, we'll hear from the first responders who helped get rescuers on to the scene in time to save lives. Don't go away.
KING: We're back. Joining us now in Minneapolis, Dave Hildebrandt, EMS supervisor with the Hennepin County Medical Center; and Ted Canova, a communications director at Twin Cities Red Cross Chapter.
Dave, where were you and what did you do?
DAVE HILDEBRANDT, EMS SUPERVISOR, HENNEPIN COUNTY MEDICAL CENTER: Larry, last night, approximately shortly after 6:00 when this happened, the EMS service at Hennepin County Medical Center responded initially with a supervisor and a couple of ambulances. When they arrived and realized how grave the situation was, they immediately initiated the Incident Management Systems or our mass casualty planning. That started a cascade of numerous responses from ambulances in our service, collaboration of other agencies in the metro area, a line of medical transportation, North Medical Transportation, the whole EMS management team from HCMC and supervisors from other area services.
KING: And Ted Canova, as communications director of the Twin Cities Chapter Red Cross, what was your role?
TED CANOVA, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, TWIN CITIES RED CROSS: Well, Larry, it feels like it was four days ago and I'm sure everybody here feels that way, too. The Twin Cities Red Cross located just a block away from the bridge. It had a very unique position where 60 kids from that school bus, many of them walked their way with the lead of a Red Cross staff worker, who happened to be driving on that bridge and just came 20 feet away from falling into it. He got out of his car, went to the bridge, decided not to climb on the bridge but with the help of other adults managed to get some kids off of that bridge and then they walked, in my mind, like the pied piper down the street to safety to the Red Cross headquarters.
Inside there, those kids were comforted by a team of Red Cross volunteers and staff members. They were given food and comfort, a shoulder to lean on. It was very special time, especially as the parents were making their way over the next half hour to an hour, really emotional embrace that was going on there.
KING: Ted -- rather, Dave, what kind of injuries were you running into?
HILDEBRANDT: Well, Larry, what we initially had was a few critical patients that were transported down to Hennepin County Medical Center. And then through the course of two hours, we had 50 patients that were transported and then we had an additional 23 walking wounded that reported to other hospitals.
One of the things that we needed to do and one of the things that's worked out -- the reason why this worked out so well is we have regionalization here where all the agencies have come together and we work together quickly. The citizens here in Minneapolis did a great job helping out, the Red Cross, we had numerous EMS services that helped. And essentially we had every patient transported in under two hours.
The communication system was excellent. They spent the time communicating with all the ambulances at the scene. They called all the hospitals in the metro area to see how many patients that they could handle so that the EMS units leaving the scene, the paramedics leaving the scene, knew which hospitals could handle patients.
KING: Ted, how has this affected the community?
CANOVA: You know, I think it's brought -- it's a cliche to say that it's brought the community together but driving around people are looking. This is going to be an icon site in this state. I think this is an icon moment in this state. The Red Cross was there providing grief counseling to 1,200 people, Larry, 1,200 people in 24 hours is remarkable.
One of the cornerstones of our whole response has been to have a family assistance center. And it's just in this building down below where almost throughout the day and into the night, early morning we've got Red Cross grief counselor there on hand, sitting with families that are just waiting. They're just waiting for some word. Today there were some clergy that were in there.
But the professionalism that this city and this state, and I even think broader than the state has seen is something else. The response has been coordinated. It looks like we've been practicing this whether it's Red Cross, the city, the state.
I was in transit yesterday, Larry, and to get to the point down to the river, I was driving at 6:30 following sheriff's deputies with their sirens going over the speed limit, of course. Every other car was another colored vehicle from a different jurisdiction. And you know it was almost as if there was such unity in the highway and you would never picture that maybe in any other community.
KING: I salute you both, Dave Hildebrandt and Ted Canova. Thank you, guys.
And we'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KING: I want to get in a quick word with Matt Lundquist who survived the bridge collapse before we meet our two United States senators from Minnesota.
Matt, what happened?
MATT LUNDQUIST, BRIDGE COLLAPSE SURVIVOR: Well, I was heading home from work. I was going southbound on 35W. And I was on the north side of the bridge and all of a sudden I felt it shaking and then I felt one jolt. And the cars in front of me just started to disappear. And then I felt a second jolt about one or two seconds after that and there was a section of the bridge behind me that fell down. And my vehicle was on the one standing platform.
KING: How did you get out?
LUNDQUIST: I just -- I waited for my section to fall down and after a few seconds I just opened the door and walked away.
KING: What's the first thing you did?
LUNDQUIST: Well, I just, you know, sat there for not very long. I was so worried about my section of the bridge. And I just opened the door and I walked away and locked up the car.
KING: Did you call anybody?
LUNDQUIST: Yes. Yes, right away I called my parents and I called my girlfriend. And they hadn't even heard that the bridge collapsed since, you know, it was within a minute or two of the bridge collapse. And then squad cars were already pulling up at that time.
KING: Where is your car, Matt?
LUNDQUIST: It's on the -- it's there. It's actually in one piece. It's in good shape except it's stranded up there. I can't get it down.
KING: Thanks, Matt Lundquist who survived the bridge collapse.
Let's go to the United States capital, the rotunda, to meet Senator Amy Klobuchar, the Democrat of Minnesota who traveled to Minneapolis earlier to survey the bridge collapse.
Did you -- was it what you expected to see?
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: Larry, it was horrific. And it's actually only eight blocks from my house and I have driven on that bridge so many times. And that's what I kept thinking when I looked down at that school bus. I thought about moms like me with their kids in the back driving, right up, and suddenly a bridge, eight-lane highway, buckles under you.
And the heroic acts of our police/firefighters is something that I think is going to be a model for the rest of the country in terms of how to handle a disaster.
KING: Are we going to have a full-fledged investigation...
KING: ...on the national level?
KLOBUCHAR: You know I do not understand how a bridge in the middle of America can just fall into the river. We have called for an investigation. The National Safety Transportation Board chair was there on the scene. That investigation has started and we have to get to the bottom of how this happened.
KING: Thank you, senator. We'll be checking in with you a lot in the days ahead.
KLOBUCHAR: I look forward to being on again. Thanks, Larry.
KING: Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat of Minnesota.
Now the other senator, Republican of Minnesota, originally from Brooklyn, New York, Senator Norm Coleman. He was in Minneapolis earlier today to survey it.
Would you agree with what Senator Klobuchar had to say about this incident, senator?
We don't have him. Oh, I'm sorry, I thought we had him.
We will take a break and come back and we're going to meet safety engineers. Don't go away.
KING: We're going to meet two engineers involved, one from the NTSB and another, the director of construction engineer programming at the University of Southern California.
I want to get a quick word or two with Senator Norm Coleman, Republican of Minnesota. We heard from the Democratic senator from Minnesota earlier.
How bad was it, Norm?
SEN. NORM COLEMAN (R), MINNESOTA: It takes your breath away. And by the way, you know, Republican/Democrat, this is one where our hearts cry out for those who have been -- we know are gone -- for those who we will find out will be gone.
Yesterday was a day of horror in Minneapolis. We're going to have some tough days ahead as we move from rescue to recovery. So there's going to be some tough stories. We will morn and we will pray and we will rebuild. And then we'll find out how the heck this happened, Larry.
KING: Are we going to look at other bridges? COLEMAN: I think we have to. I think we have to take stock of our infrastructure. In fact, we just passed out of the Senate today something we were working on before this grave calamity and that is to put together a commission to take a look at the nation's infrastructure to come up with a plan to, you know, figure out what we have to do to do it and then get it done. We've got a lot of old bridges. We've got a lot of bridges that have been listed as structurally deficient. It doesn't mean that you can't drive on them but I would guess that a lot of people today are pretty unsure. And we've got to do something about it.
KING: Thanks, Norm. We'll be calling on you a lot in the days ahead.
COLEMAN: Whatever you need, Larry. Thank you.
KING: Senator Norm Coleman, Republican of Minnesota.
Joining us now from Minneapolis is Jim Burnett, the former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board; and here in Los Angeles, professor Hank Kaufman, director of the construction engineering and management program at the University of Southern California, professional engineer, 40 years experience.
Jim, is it too soon to know what went wrong?
JIM BURNETT, FORMER CHAIRMAN, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: Well, of course, the investigation is just beginning and almost all of the evidence is either at the bottom of the Mississippi River or under tons of concrete. So although there's certainly investigative activities that are being pursued already, it's going to be a long time before the key evidence is available.
KING: Professor Kaufman, could this be the natural happen stance of aging?
HANK KAUFMAN, ENGINEERING PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA: Yes, that -- certainly all signs indicate to that. It's 40 years old and like anything else, like a human body, it needs taking care of. And that's maintenance as we go along.
There's been a lot of preliminary guesses at what actually was the cause. And frankly, the answer would be we don't know yet. It's going to take a good 6 to 12 months for thorough engineering investigation.
KING: Are you fearful of other bridges in other places?
KAUFMAN: They're certainly of great concern but again, I'd like to reassure what the senator said that our bridges are safe to travel on.
Engineering tends to be a very conservative profession and we have a big safety factor drawn in there. If there's any -- we do have a regular inspection program so any danger of a bridge collapsing we are concerned with it. KING: Jim, is this preventable?
BURNETT: Yes, I think the safety board and certainly I operate under the theory that all accidents are preventable, some of them are more difficult to prevent than others. A good bridge inspection program, one would think would have prevented this. And I'm not in a position to criticize that program. We think Minnesota's had a good one. But inspections have to be evaluated and action has to be taken when problems are uncovered. All of those decision make you -- that decision-making process will have to be scrutinized.
KING: Professor Kaufman, what does structurally deficient mean?
KAUFMAN: That's a very good question and there's a lot of confusion exactly what the definition is. It does not necessarily mean, and I want to stress, that the building or the bridge is in imminent collapse status. It might mean that there might be some loose joints to be taken care of, it might need some painting, it might need some rusting. So it doesn't mean that it's going to collapse. Any bridge that is in that danger will be quickly corrected.
KING: Any problem, Jim, with this particular, they call it steel deck trust bridge design?
BURNETT: Well, I don't know that there's any problem with it. This is a fairly long span. It's not the longest but that obviously is demanding on the structure. So I think the Federal Highway Administration has already ordered an inspection of similar type bridges and that's called for, I think. But we may have to do that again once the safety board knows what we're looking for.
KING: Professor we have bridges over 100 years old in America, right?
KAUFMAN: Well, certainly. For instance, the Brooklyn Bridge is 150, 160 years old.
KING: Should I worry driving over it now?
KAUFMAN: No, because we have a constant maintenance record of that. We have inspections if not every year, every other year. We have inspectors going out, logging any repairs to be done.
KING: Did they miss something in Minneapolis?
KAUFMAN: That's a good question and we don't know yet. And we're certainly going to take a very thorough investigation. It's almost like what happened in Katrina down in New Orleans. It takes years for us to really figure out what the collapse are.
We do what we call forensic engineering. We go out there, we investigate, we strengthen our codes, we change our codes, like, for instance what happened to the '94 North Ridge earthquake, we went through and we retrofitted all our bridges in the State of California so that this kind of incident wouldn't happen again. KING: A long time before we get to concrete answers, no pun intended.
KING: A long time.
Thank you, Jim Burnett, the former chairman of NTSB, we remember many hours with you in the past; and Professor Hank Kaufman of the University of Southern California.
Don't forget to check out our Web site, CNN.com/LarryKing. You can send an email or a video question to upcoming guests, participate in quick votes or download our current podcast, which is Michael Moore. It's all at CNN.com/LarryKing.
Tomorrow night, Dog the Bounty Hunter. He's got some news to tell us and more on the tragedy in Minnesota.
Anderson Cooper is there. "AC 360" starts right now.
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