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Crews Searching for Victims After Baltimore Bridge Collapse; Baltimore Mayor Says, Bridge Collapse is an Unthinkable Tragedy; Transportation Officials Give Update on Baltimore Bridge Collapse. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired March 26, 2024 - 07:00   ET




And so that's what -- that's going to be the investigation right now.

KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Of course, Juliette Kayyem, Andy McCabe, I want to thank you both for joining us early in on this morning.

And I do just want to take a moment of personal privilege. I mean, I keep this Orioles mug on this desk every single day that I broadcast here. I have very strong family roots in the Baltimore area and watching these pictures of this bridge that I, my family have driven across many times, our hearts goes out to Baltimore. It is one of the strongest places in our country and I know it is going to bounce back from this. But we are currently praying for all of those people who have been affected by this and especially for those first responders.

Thanks very much for joining us. Don't go anywhere. Our breaking news coverage continues on CNN right now.

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: We begin with breaking news this morning, a dire emergency in Baltimore. Right now, desperate search is underway as rescue crews try to figure out where people who plunged into the river after a major bridge collapse, where they are and if they are alive. We are following it all.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: New overnight federal raids on two homes owned by Sean Diddy Combs. Now, CNN has told Combs is the target of an investigation.

This morning, the fate of a widely used abortion pill hangs in the balance at the Supreme Court.

Kate is out. I'm John Berman with Sarah Sidner. This is a huge news day. This is CNN News Central.

SIDNER: Breaking right now, a major bridge in Baltimore has collapsed after a large container ship slammed into it overnight. And now there is a desperate search to save at least seven people who plunged into the river below. That is the video of what happened right there. It looks like the bridge collapsed like match sticks. Rescue crews are searching the Patapsco River, and so far, they say two people have been pulled from the waters alive. One of these people, however, in very serious condition.

The collapse occurred around 1:30 in the morning when the ship hit a support column of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, sending multiple vehicles into the river.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Be advised the entire bridge, the entire Key Bridge in the harbor. I would advise again, the entire Key Bridge has fallen into the harbor.


SIDNER: Officials are describing this as a mass casualty event. Dozens of agencies are on the scene, including the Coast Guard and dive teams are in the water looking for any survivors. The governor has declared a state of emergency.

You are looking now at live pictures above that harbor, looking down, for the first time, really getting a view of what this looks like now that the sun has come up. You are seeing the devastation from that collapse after one of those pylons holding up that bridge was hit by a huge container ship.

And you see that container ship there with all of that crumpled metal around it. One witness has said he lives nearby and he was woken up by the sound of the collapse.


DONALD HEINBUCH, FORMER CHIEF OF OPERATIONS FOR BALTIMORE FIRE: I live in a community called Sunny Beach which is the first community going south from the bridge. And we were awakened with what appeared to be an earthquake and a long rolling sound of thunder.

So, we woke up and literally we can look right out of our bedroom window and see the Key Bridge, but I couldn't see anything because of the darkness. And a little bit later, got up again to check and I saw some emergency lights in the area and I decided to drive up because I'm the old dog chasing the fire truck and came up here and what was in progress was a multi-jurisdictional response to a disaster, basically.


SIDNER: We just heard from Baltimore's mayor at a news conference. Here is what he's saying this morning.


MAYOR SCOTT BRANDON SCOTT (R-BALTIMORE, MD): This is an unthinkable tragedy. We have to first and foremost pray for all of those who are impacted.

But we have to be thinking about the families and people impacted, folks who we have to try to find and safe.


SIDNER: And so far, as we mentioned, there are seven people, they are sure, they are looking for it this hour.

CNN's Gabe Cohen has just arrived to the scene in Baltimore. He is with us now live. Gabe, you are there looking at the first morning light on this disaster that has collapsed this bridge. What have you learned so far?

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look, Sara, these first minutes of daylight are giving us a really surreal look at this rescue operation that's currently underway. I want to step out right away and give you a look at what's happening as we push in on the Key Bridge here, because it gives you a sense of this urgent search that officials have had to carry out here over the last few hours, sonar picking up that there are vehicles in the water that came down off the Key Bridge when it collapsed early this morning.


And you can see if you look some police boats clearly in the water, that's what those flashing lights are, and as we push in on that container ship, those are chunks of the Key Bridge mangled in the water at least one of them strewn across the deck of that ship that's still sitting there in the river as rescuers are around it trying to find anyone who might be alive in the water.

As you mentioned, officials have said they're searching for at least seven people but they don't know the exact number. But this is a long bridge, a wide river. From our vantage point, you can see clearly a huge chunk of it that's gone, Sara, the gap between the two sides. It maybe is a half mile long it's hard to tell from our view but look they have shut down both sides of the bridge as this rescue is underway. This is about as close as we could get.

But it is stunning to see what was the Key Bridge an extremely important route not just for people who live in Baltimore but anyone who travels the so-called Acela Corridor between Washington and New York. This is over interstate -- this is Interstate 695. It is really a highly trafficked road. There are going to be implications there in the hours, days, months ahead. But right now, the focus is on this urgent search for any possible survivors who could still be in this choppy water.

And just to give you a sense of conditions right now, according to online data, this water might be around 48 degrees, the weather this morning, high 30s, low 40s. But just being here along the water, extremely strong frigid wind there, the water is choppy, conditions must be brutal for crews out there and they are searching a very wide, a very expansive part of this river anywhere where the bridge has collapsed. And we can see it is a huge area, a Coast Guard helicopter flying overhead, and what from our vantage point looks like maybe a dozen boats in the water looking for people.

SIDNER: It is so disturbing just to watch that collapse happen. That happened around 1:30 in the morning.

We should also mention that the police chief, James Wallace, has said that sonar has detected the presence of vehicles in the water, underneath the water. So, those rescue crews are out there desperately searching for anyone who may still be alive after this collapse. And, as you said, up to seven or more people, they believe, are still missing.

Gabe Cohen, thank you so much for your reporting this morning. I'm going to toss to you, John.

BERMAN: All right, let's give people a sense of exactly where this bridge is right now. You can look here on this map. This is Baltimore. This is the Key Bridge. You can see it is the outer bridge from downtown Baltimore and this span right now, it is in the water. It is in the Patapsco River in Baltimore right now.

I just want to play again so people can see the ship hits the pylon. I'm going to reverse that right there. That pylon right there, that big ship runs into it, the entire bridge falls into the water there.

And, again, just so people have a sense of the area we're talking about, this is the key bridge. This is Baltimore Washington International Airport. So, you can imagine if you're coming from the northeast down to BWI, you may very well go over that bridge.

This area right here you're looking at, a lot of warehouses, Amazon, McCormick, important companies. So, this is a huge transport corridor up and down the East Coast.

Let's get a sense of what it would be like for people who may be in the water right now, because, as you heard, there is a search for up to seven people.

Derek Van Dam is with us now. We heard water temperatures of about 48 degrees. What does that mean, Derek?

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. Well, that's downright dangerous for anybody who enters water of those temperatures. Cold water, remember, drains body heat roughly four times faster than cold air can. So, with a water temperature of 48 degrees, the reasonable survivability time is roughly one to three hours.

With those types of water temperatures, give or take a couple of hours on either side of that. That is what we're dealing with here. Remember, hypothermia, cold shock, that is the concern as you enter cold water with water temperatures in the 40s, your heart rate increases, your breathing increases, and, of course, your blood pressure changes as well.


Another complication within this search and rescue effort is the current high tide that is pushing certain amounts of water into the Chesapeake Bay and into the Patapsco River region just outside of Baltimore. We currently have coastal flood warnings in effect for the entire Chesapeake Bay as water approaches high tide roughly at 8:20 this morning.

So, you can imagine the search and rescue boats not only navigating the choppy waters that are being pushed in from the Atlantic Ocean, but, soon, within the next hour or so, we're going to see a reversal in the tides as low tide approaches around 3:10 this afternoon, and then that will also complicate trying to keep those boats in a steady position, not to mention the winds that will be picking up through the course of the day today, because you see this approaching from the west, that's an approaching cold front, and that is going to advance eastward.

Right now, we're dry, visibility at ten miles, so about as clear as it can get, but with the approach of a cold front, we anticipate winds to pick up, and we anticipate the chance of rainfall to enter into this equation to complicate the search and rescue efforts that are ongoing. John?

BERMAN: All right. Derek Van Dam, so those people if they are still in the water, they need to get them very, very quickly. Derek Van Dam, thanks to you.

Can we just put the daylight aerial view of the situation in the Patapsco River so people can see what we are dealing with right there? Just look at that picture for a second. Let's just stay on this for a second. You can see that entire span of the Key Bridge is in the water. That is 695. That is a major beltway in a major American city that's at the bottom of a river right now.

And there you can see Dali, that huge cargo vessel just wedged in there right where it has been since about 1:30 A.M. this morning when it crashed into the pylon that's supporting that bridge leading to this just major infrastructure disaster.

Again, that is an image you simply never see. That is stunning, stunning footage, Sara.

SIDNER: It truly is. And, John, one of the things that really struck me in listening to the police chief, James Wallace, is he talked about the two people they were able to rescue, one of whom is in very serious condition, not able to even speak to them about what that person experienced.

The other person walked away and refused medical services, was okay enough to be able to just say, I'm fine, and was able to go on about their day. Fascinating to hear that, and the fact that there are now seven, at least seven people, they believe, are still in those frigid waters.

On top of the fact that you talk about this bridge, you look at this expanse, daily, there's about 31,000 cars, traffic, that uses this expanse. Like you said, it is a major area of commute, and it is going to cause a lot of problems. But right now, the real focus is on trying to save those who may be in that frigid water, including vehicles that sonar has detected underneath the surface.

All right, we're going to have, of course, much more ahead on the emergency response to this bridge collapse and the search for those who may still be in the water.

Also breaking overnight, Sean Diddy Combs is now a target of a federal investigation after the Department of Homeland Security raided his homes in Miami and Los Angeles. What we're learning about that investigation this morning.

Also, the battle over the abortion pill heads to the Supreme Court today, the first major case on abortion since the court overturned, Roe versus Wade.



BERMAN: All right. You are looking at live pictures of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore in the water. That is a huge cargo ship that ran into a pylon in the bridge overnight. The entire bridge collapsed. 31,000 cars, vehicles a day pass over that bridge. It will be some time before any goes over that span again.

At this moment, there is a search and rescue operation underway in that water, in the Patapsco River. They believe as many as seven people could be underwater right now. Sonar picked up signs of cars in the water.

This collapse again happened overnight. We have video here, I can show you, of the moment it happened. If you could take me right now, guys, you can see the cargo vessel running into the pylon right there. The entire bridge collapses in to the water.

How did this happen? What happens now?

With us is CNN Transportation Analyst and former Inspector General at the Department of Transportation Mary Schiavo.

Mary, we're looking at these pictures, which are really hard to digest, hard to really process. What are the questions you have this morning?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN TRANSPORTATION ANALYST: Well, first and foremost, as in any ship, traffic way, navigable waterway, there are usually pilots or tugboats or persons on board to direct the ship. So, the inquiry from the National Transportation Safety Board and others will start with who was on board, who was commanding the ship, who was in the pilot house, what were they doing, who was the local pilot, the river pilot, to direct them, or were there tugs that were not at their places.


So, there're so many questions about the steerage of the ship. And then, of course, they're going to turn to the bridge, the bridge construction.

What's interesting in U.S. bridge collapses is there are two major causes. One is a ship or barge hitting the bridge. It's happened in many states over the years. And the other is often if the bridge was under work or under construction, and, certainly, they will be investigating those two reasons as well.

And those seem to stand out in the United States, at least in modern times, to explain what happened in bridge collapses.

BERMAN: So, just so people understand again, that stunning pictures right there. If we can look at the map and maybe push in a little bit on the map here so we can see the area that I'm talking about. This is 695. This is the Francis Scott Key Bridge right there. You can see it's the outer bridge in the Baltimore Harbor, the last bridge out as you head into the Chesapeake Bay.

But this is a really heavily trafficked waterway, Mary. I mean, the inner Harbor is in there. All kinds of shipping vessels are going in and out of this area every single day. So, this clearly was some kind of a catastrophic accident here.

SCHIAVO: Oh, absolutely. Some kind of a catastrophic accident, you know, they're going to be focused on what was going on the ship, but also those support peers. You know, the old -- you know, it's a mainstay of engineering that there are three parts to a bridge construction, the mass and inertia to protect it against wind, the stiffness of the trusses to keep it together, and then, of course, the stays to keep the bridge on its supports.

And so in modern times, what they have done is built a built up bulwarks and, you know, cement pilings and all sorts of things to keep the barges or ships from hitting those supports. Because once those supports are weakened and the bridge band is weakened from the support, you know, that has explained the problem in a lot of bridge collapses in the United States, even a major one here in Charleston back in the 40s.

BERMAN: Mary, I'm going to jump in here. The Maryland State transportation secretary is speaking. Let's listen in.


PAUL J. WIEDEFELD, MARYLAND TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: -- the national authority and our federal, state, and local partners immediately responded to the scene.

At this time, this is an active search and rescue mission. We know there were individuals on the bridge at the time of the collapse working on the bridge, contractors for us. Our partners from the U.S. Coast Guard will provide some more information momentarily.

In terms of traffic, drivers should avoid I-695 Southeast Carter and use I-95 and I-895 as alternatives. I-695 is being detoured southbound at exit 43, the Peninsula Expressway, and northbound at Exit 2, Route 10. Vessel traffic into and out of the port of Baltimore suspended until further notice, but the port is still open for truck transactions.

Obviously, we're very thankful for the first responders who are carrying out their efforts in these rescues, and that they're doing this all through the night and today, and we're praying obviously for everyone safe return.

We'll continue to provide updates to you, the next one being approximately 9:30.

With that, I will turn it over to Lieutenant Colonel Palmer from the U.S. Coast Guard.

Good morning. My name is Lieutenant Commander Erin Palmer from Coast Guard Sector Maryland National Capital Region. I'm the current acting chief of response for the sector. The Coast Guard's primary mission right now is search and rescue, looking for any survivors in the water.

On scene, we currently have three small boats. We also have Coast Guard Cutter Mako, an 87-foot patrol boat. We have a helicopter from Air Station Atlantic City and we're working with numerous federal, state, and local partners on scene on these search and rescue efforts.

Thank you.

WIEDEFELD: You guys have any questions at this time?

REPORTER: What role is the FBI playing in the investigation at this time?

WIEDEFELD: FBI has, basically, to see if there's any terrorism connection, which there is not.


WIEDEFELD: No confirmed fatalities.

REPORTER: Any recovered from the water alive?

WIEDEFELD: That's still under -- still the rescue mission is still active.

REPORTER: If you have any sense of what happened to the actual cargo ship? There were some reports that it suffered some major power outages just before it crashed into the ship.

WIEDEFELD: Too early in the investigation.

REPORTER: Was it a pilot operating the ship coming in and out of the port? Was it a port's authorized pilot or was it the captain of the ship?

WIEDEFELD: You know, pilots move ships in and out of the port of Baltimore. [07:25:00]

Pilots move ships in and out of Baltimore.


WIEDEFELD: Basically, we're communicating with them. They obviously understand the situation and we'll deal with the logistics of that later.


WIEDEFELD: That's all being done right now. I don't know the exact details of where they all are. But yes, obviously, we're contacting them.


WIEDEFELD: At any type of incident like this, the FBI would be engaged just to make sure, and that's what they did.

REPORTER: Do you have any idea how many people are in the water? Do you have any idea how could this happen?

WIEDEFELD: Too early, too early investigation.

REPORTER: Do you know how (INAUDIBLE) this area where it happened with the ships?

WIEDEFELD: Approximately 50 feet, 50 feet.

REPORTER: How many people were rescued? How many were pulled from the water? How many you're still searching for?

WIEDEFELD: That's still -- that is what we're doing. We're basically searching for everyone that was potentially on the bridge. As you can imagine, it's the middle of the night, you know, what type of traffic was there, how many workers were there. Workers, you know, they obviously come to a project but other workers show up sometimes, so that's what we're investigating right now.


WIEDEFELD: Not in Baltimore.

REPORTER: Can you talk more about the workers on the bridge, what was going on and how many vehicles you think might actually be in the water?

WIEDEFELD: They were they were basically doing some concrete deck repair. We don't have the number of the vehicles.

REPORTER: Do you know who they work for?

WIEDEFELD: I don't have that right off hand.

REPORTER: How long will the port be closed? Any estimate?

WIEDEFELD: Too early to determine.


WIEDEFELD: A number of people, that's the one number that we've had. But, obviously, we're going to -- we're researching to see if anyone else was on that bridge.

REPORTER: Can you speak to some of the challenges in the water, current (INAUDIBLE)?

WIEDEFELD: All of the above, to be frank, you know, a very, very tough situation, 1:00 A.M. in the morning, very little information at that time, you know. It happened instantaneously, as you've seen.

REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE), what can you tell family members who might be watching about any hope that (INAUDIBLE)?

WIEDEFELD: We actually have set up a facility for any family members. We have mental health professionals there as well. So, we are dealing with that.

REPORTER: And are you ruling out any kind of intentional motive?

WIEDEFELD: We don't see anything that relates to that at this time. It's an open investigation, but there's nothing that points to that in any direction.

REPORTER: First of all, (INAUDIBLE) directly from the ship, when the ship gets there. Who were the first ones to make the 911 calls (INAUDIBLE)?

WIEDEFELD: I don't know. I don't have that information.


WIEDEFELD: It's too early.

I'm sorry --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you ask the question, please?


WIEDEFELD: Right, okay. And we'll be back. We'll be back surely about 9:30. I'm sorry.

SIDNER: All right. You are there listening to the Maryland State transportation secretary. He gave us one really new detail, as he talks about the fact that, yes, this is still an active search and rescue mission. That is important to note. But he also says that they have confirmed that there were individuals that were working on the bridge around 1:30 in the morning when it collapsed. And so that is a new detail. There were questions about who was on the bridge at the time. They are also talking about the fact that they do believe that there are cars in the water that have been detected by sonar as well.

I want to get us to Mayor Brandon Scott, the mayor of Baltimore, who is with us right now on the phone.

Mayor Scott, first of all, I just want to say that I am so sorry that your community is going through this right now and that there are families wondering and worrying about their loved ones at this hour.

Can you tell me so far what you know about exactly what happened here to the Francis Scott Key Bridge?

SCOTT (voice over): Well, listen. We have an unspeakable tragedy. We know that this vessel struck the bridge and the bridge collapsed. There were individuals working on the bridge at that time. There are cars in the water. Our fire department has confirmed that, as they lead this ongoing search and rescue mission through sonar. That is where our focus is, it's about those souls and people that we're trying to find to get out of this water.

We know that there's going to be questions about the bridge and traffic and the port. But right now, everyone in this world's focus should be about these souls and those families who are wondering if these people are going to walk back in the door after they walked out to work last night.


SIDNER: Yes, that's a really good point that the anxiety of all this.