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Major Baltimore Bridge Collapses. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired March 26, 2024 - 13:00   ET



DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Particularly on the surface of the water -- Manu.

MANU RAJU, CNN HOST: Absolutely brutal.

Thank you, Derek Van Dam, for breaking this down.

And thank you for joining INSIDE POLITICS on this very busy news day.

Stay with CNN for much more breaking news out of Baltimore. "CNN NEWS CENTRAL" starts right now.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: A catastrophic collapse in Baltimore, a cargo ship slamming into a bridge, plunging it into frigid water, emergency teams now frantically out looking for survivors, and local officials worried about the long-term impact of the disaster. We're expecting to hear from federal investigators in just moments.

Plus: the next big fight over abortion today, the Supreme Court hearing arguments to decide whether to restrict access to a widely used abortion pill, the solicitor general arguing that justices should put an end to this case, though some on the court appear open to allowing a ban.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN HOST: And a sex trafficking probe targeting Sean "Diddy" Combs. Feds raid the music mogul's homes. What we know about the investigation and what they were looking for.

We're following these major developing stories and many more. It's all coming in right here to CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

SANCHEZ: Thanks for joining us on CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

We are monitoring a major bridge collapse in Baltimore. Here, you can see the mangled steel of what used to be the Francis Scott Key Bridge on top of that cargo ship that smashed into a support pillar at about 1:30 this morning. Six people remain unaccounted for.

And moments ago, President Biden said the search-and-rescue operation remains the top priority. Two other people were saved. One of them is in critical condition, according to the president. Officials are still trying to piece together what happened. There is one key detail. If you watch the video closely, shortly

before the impact, you see the boat. The lights can be seen flickering on and off. Now, Maryland's governor confirms that the crew sent a mayday call about a power issue, alerting authorities, who quickly cut off traffic to the bridge, a move that potentially saved lives.

Let's take you now live to the scene with CNN's Gabe Cohen.

So, Gabe, update us on this search-and-rescue effort. Where does it stand now?

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Boris, crews are still out here in the river, still going through this search-and-rescue operation.

I'm going to step out of the way so you can see what's happening behind me just down the water from where I'm standing. You can see that massive container ship and what's left of the Key Bridge just spilled across it, across both the deck and in the water on each side of it, thousands of tons of steel, as those rescuers are in these rescue boats all around it searching for any sign of life.

We also have seen rescue vehicles on the riverbank. They're participating in the search as well, Coast Guard helicopters. It is a lot. There are a lot of agencies that are taking part in this, but, look, we are now close to 12 hours into this operation, and things are getting more dire, because this is cold water.

We're talking 48 degrees, conditions this morning particularly frigid. And so every second counts. And we have heard officials talk about that, but, as of now, they say they are maintaining hope, and they are just praying that there is going to be that sign of life and they can pull some of these individuals who are missing out of the water.

We know they're searching for at least six people believed to be missing in the river right now. And we're waiting on an update hopefully in the coming minutes or hours as to whether or not anything comes up, they're able to find anything. But, as of now, it's been a very difficult morning for these crews, conditions, a lot of choppy waves out there.

It has definitely settled down, but not easy, Boris, for the crews that are working in this difficult situation.

SANCHEZ: Yes, a difficult scene to process, to say the least.

Gabe, help us understand just how critical that mayday call was, because it helped to halt traffic on the bridge shortly before the crash.

COHEN: That's right, Boris.

That's what officials are saying, that, as this ship was losing control and losing power in the moments before the collision with a column of this bridge that set off this collapse, that they sent out this mayday signal. And local officials police, according to some of the officials we have heard from, were able to stop traffic, stop some of the vehicles that likely would have been on the bridge during the collapse and potentially save lives.


Take a listen. Here's what Maryland's governor said about that just a little while ago.


GOV. WES MOORE (D-MD): I'm thankful for the folks who, once the warning came up and once notification came up, that there was a mayday, who literally, by being able to stop cars from coming over the bridge, these people are heroes. They saved lives last night.


COHEN: And look, Boris, what we are still asking and still trying to get answers to is, if authorities did know about this mayday call, if they were stopping traffic, why was this construction crew still on the Key Bridge, the six people or at least eight people that went into the water?

Because two have been pulled out, one basically unhurt, the other recently released from the hospital after suffering serious injuries, and the six at least that are still missing. We don't know why they were still up there. But, as you heard from those officials, they believe that that mayday call likely save lives.

SANCHEZ: Gabe Cohen, thanks so much for the update from where you are.

Let's pivot to another vantage point of the crash. CNN's Brian Todd is live for us on a boat in the harbor.

Brian, what are you seeing from there?


We have been able to get to this vantage point a few hundred yards from the vessel itself. Our photojournalist Andrew Crispin (ph) is going to go right past me and give you a closer view to it.

You can see just the sheer force. You -- just from this angle, you can see the sheer force with which the Dali, this cargo ship, this container ship, slammed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge. You can see there at the bow of the ship, which is to the right -- this was an outgoing vessel, by the way, going out toward the Chesapeake Bay, which is what you see beyond it.

This -- that you can see across the bow is a remnant of the bridge itself. It's lying across the bow. This is -- you can also see another angle of the damage to the vessel and the damage to the bridge itself. If we can pan out just a little bit wider, you can see -- look at that -- the entire middle section of the Francis Scott Key Bridge is gone.

There's a Coast Guard helicopter hovering overhead. Rescue vessels have been going back and forth. A few minutes ago, we saw an Army Corps of Engineers vessel that we were told had sonar capability that is also searching the water. We also saw a couple of tugboats coming past here towing an oil boom. So they're looking for remnants of possible spillage there.

I heard Gabe mentioning, of course, they're looking for six people unaccounted for. We're also told by officials that they tracked four vehicles that were on the bridge at the time of the collapse, four, at least four, possibly more vehicles, but a few vehicles, we can say, that went into the water.

Unclear if there were any people inside the vehicles. At least one of the vehicles was seen with its lights on in the water after it plummeted into -- into the water from this bridge. And, again, just take a look at the devastation there and what is missing. It's a very dramatic shot of what is missing from this bridge there.

It's a very important artery for commerce going north and south along the East Coast. Hazmat material is only allowed on this bridge. It's not allowed in the tunnels that go underneath the Baltimore Harbor, where most of the vehicular traffic, the regular vehicular traffic, goes into the tunnels.

The hazmat material can go over this bridge. So that gives you an idea of what's been disrupted here. Here's another kind of illustration of what's been disrupted. No major vessel traffic has been allowed in or out of this harbor since this accident happened almost 12 hours ago.

That green vessel right there, that's called the Carmen. That is a vessel that brings cars into that port terminal here in Baltimore. It is stranded here. Every other commercial cargo ship is trapped inside this harbor. No other major vessels can get in or out. That is a huge disruption of the economy here.

You have got hotels, businesses, restaurants, other businesses here that depend on these goods coming in and out of Baltimore Harbor. That is disrupted for at least days, we're told. I also spoke, Boris, not too long ago to an official with a marine construction company that's going to be involved in the salvaging and the reconstruction of this bridge.

He told me that it's going to take several days just to get floating cranes and heavy equipment here, so that it can remove some of the fragments of this bridge when it gets here. Then they have to chop up some of these fragments into smaller pieces. It's going to take days just for them to get on site.

And that can't even begin, Boris, until the rescue operation is complete.

SANCHEZ: Yes, they have to make sure that the scene is cleared before any of that can start. And it is more than a mile-long bridge, much of it now underwater. Brian Todd, thanks so much for the update from Baltimore -- Jessica.

DEAN: And joining us now is veteran firefighter and EMT Gerry Dworkin. He's the water rescue technical consultant for lifesaving resources. It's a training firm and consultancy.

Gerry, thanks so much for being here with us right now.


First, help us understand what the first priority is for these rescuers now at 1:09 in the afternoon.

GERALD DWORKIN, LIFESAVING RESOURCES: Well, the first priority right now is their own personal safety. This is still considered a rescue versus recovery incident, but the first priority is the safety of all the rescuers that are on boats, around the water, in the water, in the air, and so forth.

DEAN: And you talk about a 1-10-1 rule. What is that? Help us understand.

DWORKIN: When somebody is suddenly immersed into cold water, we talk about the 1-10-1 rule. Basically, you have one minute to get your breathing under control, get your senses about you and so forth. You have 10 minutes of purposeful movement for self-rescue, And one hour before hypothermia sets in.

DEAN: And so that's what -- if you -- when you're training your rescuers probably as well, you want them to be well-versed in that.

What other skills are you making sure they have for something like this?

DWORKIN: Well, again, the priority is the safety of the personnel. They can't perfect a rescue unless they are safe themselves.

So they need appropriate personal protective equipment. And that would include -- this time of year, because we're dealing with 48-degree water, it would include appropriate immersion suits or rescue suits, such as a dry suit with insulation underneath. It would include helmets and gloves and boots and so forth just to keep them safe while they're in, on and around the water.

And, again, once they enter the water, it's very precarious. It's very dangerous for the personnel that are in and around the water. The divers are having a difficult time because of the currents and because of the wind, because of the light when the incident first occurred, and the fact that, because of the currents, you have a lot of drifting of the boats and drifting of the lines and so forth.

So it's going to be a very dangerous and a very time-consuming job for the first responders.

DEAN: Right. And in addition to all of those things you just named, there's also just this mangled metal that we see kind of sticking up out of the water. What does that do for the environment that they're in, in addition to all of those things, the current, the water temperature, all of these other factors that they're having to think about?

DWORKIN: Again, that's going to contribute to the danger, the hazards and the risks associated with this rescue and recovery operation.

If a suit gets sliced, the individual wearing that suit, talking about the dry suit, is now in jeopardy as well. So it's a -- the debris is going to be a very hazardous situation to work around. Yet there's a very good chance that, if they're trying to recover a vehicle or recover and effect a rescue, it's going to be in very close proximity to that debris.

DEAN: Yes. Well, we're certainly sending them all the best as they go about this very dangerous mission that you just outlined.

Gerry Dworkin, thank you so much for your expertise, helping us understand that. We sure do appreciate it.

DWORKIN: Thank you.

DEAN: Mm-hmm.

And we are following all the latest on this bridge collapse. Ahead, we're going to talk to an engineer about what led to the bridge collapsing so quickly.

Plus, the Supreme Court takes up the biggest abortion case since Roe v. Wade, today justices hearing arguments on limiting access to abortion pills nationwide.

And federal agents raid Sean "Diddy" Combs' L.A. and Miami homes, some of those agents showing up in armored vehicles. What we're learning about the investigation.



DEAN: Back to our breaking news, that catastrophic bridge collapse in Baltimore, a cargo ship slamming into the Francis Scott Key Bridge overnight, sending people and vehicles into the river below.

Right now, search-and-rescue teams are scouring the water for these six people who are still missing, the NTSB set to give an update on the situation in the next hour. We're going to keep our eye on that, bring it to you as it happens.

But in the meantime let's bring in CNN's Tom Foreman.

Tom, give us a sense of just how big this was and all the dynamics that were at play. TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the ship itself is a little bit

longer than three football fields, so this is a big, hefty piece of -- it -- without any cargo, it weighs almost 100,000 tons. With the cargo, it gets much heavier than that, so a tremendous amount of power here.

We know that it was moving in -- out from here from Point Breezy around this way. It came down doing about nine miles an hour when it made impact down here. So that's an idea of what was going on. You will notice that little swerve right there. There's going to be a lot of looking at that.

Why did this happen? Because that's what took it off the course that would have had it going really much more where ships should go, which is right here. This is where it diverged from that. So we will find out what that meant if we move on.

But we know also that the bridge itself, substantial bridge here, 1.6 miles in length, quite a big distance, a very, very busy bridge. And we know that the bridge basically seemed to be in good shape, last inspected in 2021, and, at the time, it was rated fair.

DEAN: And I'm noticing we're talking about the traffic obviously going under the bridge, but there is traffic on the bridge as well.


FOREMAN: Yes, there is.

And, typically, under the bridge, ninth largest port for international cargo, a lot of things moving out of that. Over the bridge, yes, 30,000 vehicles crosses bridge per day. All indications are, this idea that there was some warning from the ship may have helped. The hour also help, being 1:30, 2:00 in the morning. That's a really early hour. So that may have helped.


But tremendous artery here for vehicles to cross, but, in terms of the cargo it carries, look, they're going to be first in the nation in terms of auto and light truck imports, cars coming in and out of there, huge impact there, farm equipment, sugar imports, coal exports. And hazardous materials have been typically carried over here. That was an outgrowth of what happened after 9/11.

So, a lot of things have to be rerouted here. A lot of things have to be finished out. First of all, we have to get past the human tragedy of all of this. But this impact of a ship that size, this is like taking the Chrysler Building, tipping it over sideways, and then ramming it into a bridge, big, big impact there.

Repairing it, that will be job number one once we get past the human tragedy of this...

DEAN: Right.

FOREMAN: ... possibly restore all these things.

In the meantime, they have all got to go some other way.

DEAN: They're going to go all the way around.

And we're looking live at what it looks like as we speak.


DEAN: They continue to search for those six missing people.

Tom Foreman, thanks so much for bringing that to us.


DEAN: Boris.

SANCHEZ: Let's get some more perspective on all of this now with structural engineer Matthew Roblez.

Matthew, thank you so much for being with us.

When you hear the details of what happened, when you watch that video of the incident, what most stands out to you from what you see?

MATTHEW ROBLEZ, STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Well, what I see is that load redistribution going on.

It hit it right in the right spot, and that load redistribution going on the other parts of the bridge that aren't designed to carry that load. This bridge was built in 1977, way before any of the vehicle collision standards were adopted.

So it makes me think about how many other bridges out there that are vulnerable.

SANCHEZ: Yes, that is a good point.

I wonder, if this ship had perhaps struck a different part of the bridge, would you say that it would make it less likely that we would see this kind of devastation?

ROBLEZ: Yes, 100 percent.

I think, had it been able to avoid the column and hit one of the arch beams or something like that, I don't think you would have seen this type of collapse. Perhaps the collapse would have happened between the main structures, but it hit it right in the one portion that's holding it up.

And the one thing with these bridges, we got to remember they're long span. So you have very few supports. So, one of those goes, you saw what happened.

SANCHEZ: Right. So a lot of bridges have what are known as fenders to protect these

kinds of portions of the structure from impact with vessels. There's actually a photo from the Golden Gate Bridge built in 1937 in San Francisco. And it has fenders.

How come this bridge didn't have that? Do you think that they might have been effective in a scenario like this?

ROBLEZ: I can't speculate on that, because maybe -- the fenders take up a lot of space, and perhaps it would restrict the waterway there.

But it should be noted that, just about a year ago, they did a study on the I-40 Bridge, and that was their one major recommendation on preventing vessel collisions, was to put fenders around the major supports. And had there been fenders there, had there been the secondary system to catch it before it hit anything, we wouldn't have this today.

SANCHEZ: I'm curious to get your perspective on something that President Biden said about getting a new bridge installed.

It's obviously going to be an enormous and difficult process, and it may be difficult to speculate, but walk us through some of the challenges in, once this scene is cleared, reconstructing or rebuilding a bridge of this size?

ROBLEZ: Well, the first thing that's going to take the most time, honestly, is to clear out all of the debris and everything that's there.

The design is going to take time and then just obtaining the materials is going to take time. And so your biggest obstacle is going to be clearing everything out that's already there. And I think that we have a great military. We have a great National Guard.

I'm thinking that some -- that they may go out there and may be able to put up a temporary bridge like you would do in a wartime or something like that to keep the traffic flowing, because, as all your other guests have said, it's so critical to the economy.

SANCHEZ: Yes, it is going to be a challenging path forward, no matter how it's handled.

Matthew Roblez, I appreciate the time. We have to leave the conversation there.

ROBLEZ: Thank you very much.

SANCHEZ: Of course.

Still plenty more news to come, including an update from federal investigators over what happened in Baltimore.

Plus, the Supreme Court now deciding the biggest abortion case since Roe v. Wade was overturned. Could the justices' questioning give us an indication as to how they might rule? We're back in just moments.



SANCHEZ: Breaking news to CNN.

We are tracking what is supposed to be an update from the National Transportation Safety Board. That is what you're seeing on your left. That empty podium is where we are anticipating an update from federal investigators on that bridge collapse in Baltimore, the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsing overnight roughly at 1.30 a.m.

An enormous cargo bridge -- about the size of the Chrysler Building, the size of a skyscraper, more than 900 feet long, carrying cargo, smashing into the bridge, six people still unaccounted for. The search-and-rescue effort continues now.

We will, of course, keep an eye on the situation, not only at the bridge, but also with federal investigators and what their update might be.