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Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Abortion Pill Case; Major Baltimore Bridge Collapses. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 26, 2024 - 11:00   ET



JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: We will, of course, get back to you.

A busy morning here in the CNN NEWSROOM. Stay with us. We will be back in just a few moments.

What's that, guys? Are we going to go to the next hour?

Oh, we're going to go to the top of the hour. Thank you for staying with us. You are live at the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Jim Acosta in Washington.

As I was saying a few moments ago, I thought we might be going to a break, but we're not. We have got a lot of moving parts this morning. We're going to begin this hour with the disaster unfolding right now in Baltimore. A massive 1.6-mile interstate bridge has collapsed, as we have been telling you all morning long. This is the moment that the Francis Scott Key Bridge plunged into the Patapsco River in Baltimore piece by piece, taking with it a number of vehicles and people.

Six people are missing at this hour after a huge container ship slammed into a column supporting the bridge. A short time ago, Maryland officials said the crew warned it was having power issues before the collision. Two people have been rescued from the 48-degree water, one person seriously injured.

This is the emergency dispatch call to the first responders as they were en route. Take a listen.


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


ACOSTA: All right, CNN's Brian Todd and Pete Muntean join me now.

Brian, I know it's been about nine-and-a-half-hours since the collision. Where are you right now? It looks like you might be on a boat somewhere near the collapsed bridge. Can you tell us, where do things stand right now in terms of the search operations. BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Jim.

We have been able to get to a vantage point that we think is a little less than 2,000 yards away from the vessel itself. I'm going to just have our photojournalist Andrew Crispin (ph) go right past me. We have a second camera here operated by Joe Merkel (ph).

He's going to train in his camera in as close as he can as well. There, you get probably the best view that we're going to have of this thing for a while now.

This is the nearly 1,000-foot-long-cargo vessel, the Dali, that collided with the bridge. And you can see the entire middle section of the Francis Scott Key Bridge there has basically collapsed into the Baltimore Harbor.

You can see remnants of the bridge to the side of the boat. And if you can see just over the bow of the boat, there to your right, there's part of the bridge that is lying across the bow. What we can tell you is that there are dive teams that have been going into the water for the last several hours, but the conditions for the dive teams are very treacherous.

Our weather people say that the water temperature here is 46 to 48 degrees Fahrenheit. That is not a safe condition for divers to be in for any length of time. So they are in some dangerous conditions as they look for the possibility of finding some people in the water.

What we can tell you about that is that there were eight people -- according to officials, eight people on the bridge working construction at the time of the collapse. Two of them have been rescued. One of them is hurt. One of them is unhurt, six people unaccounted for as of now.

And, as I think Jim, you just mentioned a positive part of this is that, according to the governor, Wes Moore, they were able to -- the people operating the vessel were able to get a mayday signal out in the minutes before this incident occurred, and they were able to stop traffic from getting onto the bridge.

There were a few cars that were on the bridge at the time.Unclear at this point. If there was anyone actually in those cars when they went into the water. So you do have vehicles that are in the water, a few of them, but not clear whether anyone was actually in those cars or not, six people now unaccounted for.

And, again, we're just going to -- we're going to show you, as I kind of describe the scene here. Look at that. The entire middle section of the bridge there is gone. And you can see remnants of the bridge there. It's going to take -- I talked to a person who was involved in some of the excavation that's going to be taking place here over the next couple of days.

He said it's going to take at least two or three days just to get floating cranes and other excavation equipment here to remove some of this. And this is outside of the rescue operations that are going on right now, Jim.

And, as we pan to our left here, I'm going to show -- Andrew Crispin is going to show you the Port of Baltimore, as we kind of pan down here. That's a -- that green vessel over there to your -- now to your right, that is a -- that's a car. That's a vessel that carries cars in and out of the Baltimore Harbor.

All of these vessels are now trapped in the harbor. Nothing can get in and out. It's only one way in, one way out of the Baltimore Harbor. You have got however many vessels -- we don't even know yet -- are trapped inside the Baltimore Harbor.

So this is a huge disruption of commerce that could extend into the billions of dollars in the next few days, Jim.


TODD: Traffic is completely stopped coming in and out of this harbor.

ACOSTA: Yes, Brian. I mean, that was one of the questions that was jumping out to me is, are you seeing any shipping traffic going in and out of the harbor right now?

I would have to think it's basically come to a screeching halt. I don't know if you have been across that Key Bridge before, but I have. And it is a very important, big bridge in the Baltimore area.


And to have all of those pieces of that bridge in the water, I would have to think everything is going to be coming to a stop for weeks, until they pull those pieces out of the water, make it safe for those ships to navigate through there, and so on. I mean, this is going to be a massive undertaking.

TODD: It really is, Jim.

And to answer your first question, no...


TODD: ... there have been no vessels of any size, other than rescue and recovery vessels, and you can see one just on the other side of the bridge.

This was an outgoing vessel, by the way. The bow is pointing out Baltimore Harbor this way. Chesapeake Bay is that way. This was an outgoing vessel. Jim, no vessel traffic aside from rescue vessels and recovery vessels, and you can see one on the other side of that bridge, so nothing coming in and out of here.

And you're right, this bridge very, very important for interstate commerce and traffic, and also hazmat transportation going north and south. So that has completely stopped. Again, the disruption economically here, you can't even really fathom it at this point, because they're just kind of trying to assess now how long it's going to take some of the recovery and salvage equipment just to get here.

That's going to take days. So -- but of course, what we have to think about right now is the recovery of people in the water. We know that there are six people now unaccounted for. That's where the dive teams are working over my right shoulder over there. You can kind of see them in the distance there, or at least some of the vessels that they're operating from, Jim.


TODD: So it's really -- it's a real calamity here, and it's going to be felt for days and weeks.


And, Brian, I mean, that was the other question I was going to get to is, it just looks so eerily quiet where you are right now. And I suppose you could make out a little bit of that search-and-rescue operation. But I have to assume it's going to take time.

I mean, we understand the NTSB is rushing one of their go teams to the scene as we speak. But it's just going to take time, much of the day, for officials there to get their arms around the full scale of what we're dealing with here.

TODD: Absolutely, it will, Jim.


TODD: And many of these vessels that are coming to the site here are coming from other places along the East Coast.

We know that there is some salvaging equipment and some other -- some of that type of equipment coming from south of here in Virginia, where they were working on the Harry Nice Bridge, which is south of here near the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia. That's going to take a couple of days for them to get here.


TODD: It's -- again, it's going to take days, several days, just for some of these vessels to get here to try to, again, just pull -- what I was told also, Jim, is that they -- just to get some of this stuff out of the water, they have got to cut that into several pieces.


TODD: The parts of this bridge that are in the water, they have got to cut it into several pieces just to get it out.

ACOSTA: That's right.

TODD: And, again, the equipment that is going to be used to do that is not going to be here for several days.

ACOSTA: Wow. TODD: So it kind of gives you an idea of what people are up against here.

The priority is, of course, finding people in the water right now. And, again...


TODD: ... we can kind of train in our cameras to see some of the vessels buzzing around this vessel here.

But it really is just -- it's a monumental task just to try to recover what is left of this and then try to find people and try to get commerce going again. But it's going to take a while.

ACOSTA: Yes, it absolutely is, Brian.

I mean, we were showing some of the pictures earlier this morning, and you could see pieces of the Key Bridge on top of that ship, laying on top of the cargo containers on top of that ship. I mean, it is going to take multiple different types of equipment to go in there and pull this thing apart to get things going again.

I want to go to Pete Muntean, who is also standing by live for us. Tom Foreman, by the way, is also standing by live. He has some graphics to show us to illustrate the full scale of all of this. But I want to go to Pete Muntean, because, Pete, what we heard at the beginning of this program at around 10:00 this morning East Coast time, the governor of Maryland, Wes Moore, was detailing some of, I guess, the finer points as to how all of this took place.

If you can recap for our viewers exactly how this happened, how this started. It appears to have started with a power outage on that massive cargo ship as it was barreling towards that big column of the Key Bridge. What more can you tell us?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN TRANSPORTATION CORRESPONDENT: Multiple state and federal agencies now describe a shipping -- container ship out of control, careening at about eight knots, 95,000 gross tons of inertia going straight for that piling.

What happened here -- and you can see the ship still behind me in the Patapsco River there -- is, it veered off of the shipping lane, the channel there in the center of the Patapsco coming out of the Port of Baltimore.

And you can see in some of the video, starting at about 1:25 this morning, the lights on the boat essentially going on the blink. The lights went out once for an extended period of time. They came back on, and then they went out in the video again for another time. There was a puff of smoke from the back of the boat.


And about three minutes before that first blink of light, that -- or after the first blink of light, that was what led to this collision at about 1:28 a.m. local time here.

And you can see what is left of the bridge, this truss bridge, the center truss there of the Key Bridge. This is the longest center truss bridge in the United States, about 8,000-feet-long. This is really interesting here, and investigators will want to know why this bridge collapsed so easily.

Of course, they will want to know also, though, what was happening on the bridge of the boat. I spoke to Maryland Transportation Secretary Paul Wiedefeld. He says a pilot was in charge of the boat. That is somebody who comes onto the boat with local knowledge to help the crew and the captain guide this boat through this narrow channel here, and then not get it onto shore or lower depth, where it's about 20 feet just off of the lane.

So the pilot was in command of the boat. We know that officially. It is unclear exactly what the chain of radio calls were. We do know that a mayday call took place, and that is really significant, because the mayday call really underscores the fact that they were able to get some cars from continuing onto the bridge, according to Maryland Governor Wes Moore.

And he says that radio call was the real heroic action which led to even fewer casualties here. We know the latest now is that eight people were on top of this bridge doing deck work, pothole repair work. Most of them are contractors for the state. Six of them are still missing. Two have been accounted for.

One is currently in the hospital. One no longer needs treatment, is out of the hospital. So the search is really, really the big thing to underscore here. What is also just beginning is the investigation. And the National Transportation Safety Board at the top of the hour likely to brief us here on the Dundalk side of the bridge.

We will hear from NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy. This is so critical because this is something that the NTSB will deal with from time to time. There are bridge collapses, and there are maritime incidents. They deal with the intersection of those pretty regularly, not as much as they deal with accidents when it comes to aviation, but the NTSB will want to know exactly what took place on the bridge there.

What was the nature of the failure? We know it was some sort of power failure, but what does that entail? If the power is lost, does that mean that you can't move the bow of the boat left and right or the stern of the boat left and right?

This 950-foot-long boat really requires bow thrusters. It's not just something that can be moved by a rudder. So, this is really, really significant. And they will want to know exactly what took place there. Of course, they will be interviewing the pilot, the local pilot here who was on board this ship, but then also the rest of the crew that was on board the ship, not a small feat getting a boat in and out of this size into a port as small as this.

And let's remember that this is a spot going straight toward the Inner Harbor of Baltimore. So this is not just a commercial shipping lane. This is also typically filled with pleasure craft on the weekends here in Maryland. I have sailed under the Key Bridge. I have driven across it. This is really, really crucial.

And the fact that this is now down in the middle of the Patapsco River is a huge deal.

ACOSTA: Absolutely, Pete. It is such an important part of the Chesapeake Bay Area, the Washington, D.C.-Baltimore area.

Thank you, Pete, for laying all of that out for us. We appreciate it.

I want to go over to Tom Foreman.

Tom, I mean, one of the -- I mean, Pete was talking about the mayday call that saved so many lives. The fact that this happened at 1:30 in the morning also saved a lot of lives, because this is a very big, important artery for the D.C.-Baltimore area, big, big metropolitan area.


And no matter what they may find about the Key Bridge and its deficiencies or strengths or whatever, it was hit by a monumental amount of force. Think about this ship. From tip to tip, it's not a lot shorter than the Chrysler Building in New York, if you want to think of it that way, and laid sideways, tremendous, tremendous amount of weight here.

The empty ship is almost 100,000 tons. And when you put all this on, it, of course, goes much, much, much higher than that. So we do know this now when we look at this. And I think that investigators now have to be looking very closely at the movement.

As it left Breezy Point up here, there were two tugboats guiding it out when you look at maritime guidance here. They broke off right about here. The ship was doing about three miles an hour here, about nine miles an hour here. It was steadily gaining speed.

But what I want you to really look at is this little part right here where it seems to bend a tiny bit. That matters, because if we look at navigational maps of the area, tiny, hard to look at right here, look right down here. This is the proper channel that they would go through.

This is, if they're following everything the way they wanted to with the tugboats, you see it. It's almost like a highway in the water. They come right down here, not over here, not over here, right down the middle. That's what they're supposed to do.


But if we go back to that map from a minute ago, if you line it all up and trace it through, what you can see is, when that little bend happens here, which I'm going to put at about a half-mile from the river, that gives them -- it's all very loose math here, but let's say three minutes to put up a warning, if they knew they had a problem here, anything less, less time.

But if you follow the original line here, if they were on the channel here, if you go straight, and you mark it based on that navigational map, this is where they were supposed to be, right there. And they were headed toward the right edge of that, at least up until here it appears.

And then somewhere here about a half-mile out, they seemed to drift off.


FOREMAN: That's where I think investigators are going to look very closely, Jim.

ACOSTA: Yes, Tom, I mean, I have been boating around the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, and you have got to follow all of that stuff to a T., or there's going to be big trouble.

And just very quickly, just to let our viewers know at home, there were safety problems with this particular ship in its recent history.


ACOSTA: It does not have a clean safety record.

FOREMAN: There have been questions about it.


FOREMAN: Now, how much those come into play or don't come into play, we don't know.

But you're absolutely right. When you talk about the channel in here, it's a remarkable thing. When you're following this channel all the way out to the opening of the Chesapeake, which is quite far out there, there are areas where these giant cargo ships have only three feet of clearance off the bottom.


FOREMAN: That's why they have to stay in that channel, because it's very closely prescribed.

Don't look at all this water and say it can go everywhere. It can't. It needs to go right here, and it didn't. And the question of why is the number one question right now for investigators.

ACOSTA: All right, Tom, very important information. Thank you very much.

And we should note the NTSB will be giving a press conference at around noon today. We will bring that to you live.

We're continuing to gather more details on what led to this disaster. Brian Todd is on a boat in the Patapsco River close to the site of this disaster, our Pete Muntean, Gabe Cohen also down there on the scene as well. We will check back in with them.

And we will have all of this for you after we come right back after a quick break. Be right back.



ACOSTA: Welcome back to our breaking news coverage.

Rescue crews are facing chilly conditions, gusty winds and frigid water temperatures this morning in Baltimore. Six people are unaccounted for at this hour after the Key Bridge collapsed in that area. A person can only survive for so long in those conditions.

For more on this, I want to go to meteorologist Derek Van Dam. He joins me now, along with Brian Todd, who is on a boat near the damaged ship near that bridge that collapsed.

Brian, we will get to you in just a second.

Derek, let me go to you first, because I was talking with the Baltimore fire chief about this in the previous hour. And he was talking about what they had to go through in terms of a rescue operation overnight. He was saying that they mainly were focusing on a surface rescue operation. I suppose that's because they were just looking for heads poking out of the water at that hour.

But tell us a little bit more about what people might have been going through during all of this.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, I heard that interview, Jim.


VAN DAM: And he also mentioned the fact that it was -- the complicating effort was the fact that it was dark, but also the fact that it's just dangerously cold within the water -- water as well across the Patapsco River, 48-degree temperatures.

In fact, that's what the closest Baltimore Harbor temperature gauge is actually reading. Here's the 695 Corridor. There's the Key Bridge that collapsed overnight roughly about 1:30. We're entering into, I believe, about the 10th hour since this event occurred last night.

And when we look at the reality of this situation, humans susceptible to this type of water temperature can only sustain motor functions for so long. And survivability is roughly between one to three hours in water temperatures between 40 to 50 degrees. Your heart rate starts to increase, your breathing starts to increase. You can have a heart attack.

These are the conditions that perhaps people are experiencing. Now, in terms of the rescue, search-and-rescue operations that are still ongoing, they're also being complicated not only below the surface of the water, where we talked about how difficult conditions are in there, but the changing tides and the changing currents across the Chesapeake Bay and into the Patapsco River region just outside of Baltimore.

This is creating dangerous rip currents, for instance. This change in tide means that the potential here exists for just kind of difficult conditions trying to get those search-and-rescue boats into a safe place in and around the collapsed bridge.

We are approaching low tide at about 3:10 this evening, and then we will start that high tide cycle once again as we get into the overnight period. And then to further complicate this, Jim, we have got an approaching cold front, which means that winds will start to pick up in advance of this, so it could make conditions along the waterways there even more choppy.

So, interesting to see what Brian Todd is experiencing out there as well.

ACOSTA: All right, let me go back to Brian Todd.

Brian, you're there on the water in a boat looking at what looks like a very quiet scene behind you. I think part of that, obviously, is because that harbor has just been shut down, but what more can you tell us? What more do you see right now?


TODD: Right, Jim. It's kind of deceptive. It's quiet, but there's still a lot of activity here.

We have been able to creep a little bit closer to the Dali and the point of impact there. You can see it right there. I mean, I'm guessing we're about 1,000 yards away from it, maybe a little bit more, but we can see a lot of boats coming back and forth. These are rescue boats. These are recovery boats. There's no ship traffic, as you mentioned.

That part of it is quiet. There's no heavy vessel traffic coming in and out of here, and there may not be for days, but I can kind of describe to you basically what you're looking at. The entire middle section of that bridge is collapsed and in the water. You can see remnants of it there.

As we get a little closer, our cameras can train in to not only the police and other rescue boats that are buzzing around the ship, but you can see the bow of the vessel there to the right, and that is part of the bridge that is actually lying across the bow of the vessel there, and you can see the damage on the side of the vessel.

And that's partly probably bridge damage as well. This was a complete calamity at about 1:30 this morning. As we have been mentioning, the fortunate part is that whoever was operating the boat at the time was able to get a mayday signal out, so they were able to stop vehicle traffic and other traffic from getting on to the bridge. That's very fortunate. That could have saved many lives. Right now, as we know, six people unaccounted for. And, again, we can

show you the rescue operations going on over my right shoulder here. We can train some of our cameras in, a lot of boats coming in and out that way. But these are smaller vessels, of course. Dive teams have been in the water here for several hours.

You just heard Derek mention, though, these are not healthy conditions for divers or anyone else in the water for very long, so they have got to monitor that as well. The disruption to commerce is significant, because one other thing we can tell you about this bridge, this is one of the venues where hazmat material can travel up and down the East Coast.

They do not allow hazmat material to go into Baltimore's tunnels, which is where a lot of the other vehicle traffic goes in and out, of course, as they move around Baltimore. But hazmat material can go over this bridge. And it's unclear whether there's going to be another avenue for that material to travel up and down the East Coast.

So, again, it's a real point of disruption here. Some of the other vessels, you can see over there. We have a Coast Guard vessel here that it's just to your left, my right. We can kind of pan over. Our photojournalist Andrew Crispin is going to give you a shot of that.

And Andrew can also, I think, show you this green vessel over here. What we're told is that that is a large container vessel for vehicles, for cars coming in and out of the point -- the Port of Baltimore. It would have been getting ready to leave and pick up cars from another port, but it cannot move.

That's -- these are some of the main shipping terminals in the Port of Baltimore that basically have come to a standstill. And there are other terminals over there toward the city of Baltimore, as we can show you, that are basically at a standstill.

So, everything that is in this harbor right now, Jim, is trapped. It cannot get in or out. So that is a huge disruption at this point.

ACOSTA: All right, Brian Todd, thank you very -- and I just want to just point out, in just the last several minutes, we did get some new information about the ship.

Apparently, it dropped its anchor prior to hitting the bridge as part of its emergency procedures after losing propulsion. That is coming in from the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore.

And so we're going to have -- obviously, there's new information coming in every moment of this morning as all of this is unfolding. We're going to get back to Pete Muntean, who is, of course, on top of this. Stay with us on all of that.

But, in the meantime, we want to get back to our other very important story that's happening today, reproductive rights back on the docket at the Supreme Court, with the most significant abortion case since Roe v. Wade was overturned nearly two years ago. The High Court is hearing oral arguments in a case that could restrict

access to the widely used abortion drug mifepristone even in states where the procedure is still allowed. The pill is one of two drugs used in reproductive health care. Just last year, research shows it was used in 63 percent of all abortions nationwide.

The highly divisive issue has prompted protesters to gather outside the Supreme Court. You can see some of them there. They're chanting, carrying signs. And the nine justices now have to decide if the FDA overstepped its authority by making it easier to access this drug, the drug which is widely known to be safe in the medical community.

Moments ago, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson addressed whether doctors can consciously object to administering the drug.

Let's listen to a portion of that.


KETANJI BROWN JACKSON, U.S. SUPREME COURT ASSOCIATE JUSTICE: Counsel, can I ask you about the remedy and sort of the way that I was talking with the S.G.?

I mean, it makes perfect sense for the individual doctors to seek an exemption. But, as I understand it, they already have that. And so what they're asking for here is that, in order to prevent them from possibly ever having to do these kinds of procedures, everyone else should be prevented from getting access to this medication.