Return to Transcripts main page

CNN This Morning

Baltimore Bridge Collapses After Being Truck By Container Ship; Diver Search For Anyone Who May Be In The Water; Maryland Governor Declares State Of Emergency. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired March 26, 2024 - 05:30   ET



KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: And again, we're being careful to speculate about whether this was an intentional or accidental impact.

And you did talk about sort of the follow-on effects, but when they're trying to figure out actually how this occurred, what sort of data tends to be available in these investigations? I mean, are they looking at computers on the ship? What do you know or what can you kind of tell us in terms of what sort of information threads are available for them to pull on beyond just obviously, of course, interviewing the individuals who were in charge of piloting the ship?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST, FORMER FBI DEPUTY DIRECTOR (via Skype): Sure. So a lot of that depends, Kasie, on how -- you know, on the details of the ship. How old it is. What sort of technology it's equipped with. So that's going to really set the table in terms of what sort of information or data you have to work with.

But you can imagine the entire kind of scope of GPS data and systems data that really will show you exactly when the ship was last kind of put on the course that brought it to impacting that column. The number of people who were involved in piloting the ship at the time. The sort of inputs that those folks were delivering into the systems to steer the ship.

There is -- that can very greatly -- if this, like, a really old vessel that's in a state of disrepair and hasn't been kind of updated, that data could be pretty rudimentary. But any sort of inputs that go into that system -- if it's on a set course that had been planned out sometime before, it looks less likely that someone at the last second took it off course and into that column.

So those are -- those are kind of some of the systems that they'll be looking for to see if they even exist on the boat before they find out what sort of data that they have in this situation.

But again, those people who are at the controls of the systems are going to be your best resource, and what they really need right now is some cooperation and some kind of really solid interview feedback from those folks.

HUNT: Andy, what's the role of the United States Coast Guard in this kind of a situation? We've noted that they are involved in responding to the scene.

MCCABE: Yeah. So the Coast Guard is obviously in -- kind of in charge of the management of these waterways. The Coast Guard, of course, a part of DHS. DHS more broadly has the responsibility for kind of oversight and law enforcement investigative activity over these -- the entities that use the waterways and, of course, how that -- how that stuff is done.

So, yeah, it's -- there are a lot of folks with expertise to add to this situation. You have underwater search and recovery teams from law enforcement entities, I would expect, across the region will be assisting in the identification of vehicles and victims, and the recovery of folks who may still be in a position to be recovered. I know the FBI has an accomplished underwater search and rescue team that typically is used for identifying and recovering evidence from crimes.

But most of those teams have mutual aid agreements. These are such specialized skills. People who have the competence and the capability to deploy very specialized equipment like underwater sonars and radar equipment that they use to find particular shapes and items, and things like that in very dark and cold water, which I'm sure they're dealing with here.

So even just organizing the response to a mass casualty event like this is really a science in and of itself and it takes folks with vast experience and familiarity with the resources that are available in the region and the connections -- the kind of history of collaboration on other events, other responses. The connections to bring the right folks to the table at the time. I am sure they are doing -- going through all of those exercises right now.

There is an incident command system, which provides the structure of the response to any event like this -- kind of a formal designation of an entity and an individual who is in charge. And then that's broken down into all sorts of other systems about -- that manage the human resources that respond to these events. So I would expect the officials involved are going through that process right now and getting as many hands involved in this problem as they possibly can.


HUNT: Fascinating. I'm so very -- we're very grateful to have you on this, Andy, just because -- I mean, the -- your knowledge of simply the capabilities that these agencies have at their disposal as we try to investigate this. Really fascinating. Please stand by because we're going to continue this conversation through the hour.

I do want to bring in our meteorologist Derek Van Dam because Derek, obviously, the weather conditions are a very important component of something like this -- both questions about whether visibility may have been impaired for the ship as it was trying to navigate the harbor and also, of course, the temperature of the water there. We know that there are divers in the water trying to rescue -- what we last knew as about -- of about an hour ago that there were 20 people that they were trying to rescue in the water. And, of course, multiple vehicles as well

What can you tell us about the conditions there for the people who are victims of what happened here as well as first responders?

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, this is, Kasie, a critical moment in time for the search and rescue operation not only because of the water temperatures but the surrounding air temperature as well. So impacting not only the search and rescue operation but the potential of people still underwater or within the water conditions there.

So the closest water gauge that we could find at the Patapsco River is roughly 48 degrees. That's a water temperature of 48 degrees. Air temp roughly 43 degrees. So air colder than water.

Now, a water temperature of roughly 50 doesn't sound all that cold but, indeed, that type of water temperature can be deadly. Remember, cold water drains body heat about four times faster than cold air actually can. And when we get down to the important timing and what really matters right now is this cold water survivability. How long can the human body sustain these types of water temperatures assuming that there are people in the water from this collapsed bridge?

And I showed you that we have water temperatures there roughly about 48 degrees. So you look at this and our gauge here showing about a one to three-hour window, give or take an hour or so, of how long that body can sustain water temperatures of that temperature. So that is why it is so incredibly crucial what's happening underwater with those divers getting in there as soon as they did. We're about four hours on since the bridge collapsed at roughly 1:30 in the morning.

Remember, cold shock and hypothermia are a concern. When the body enters cold water in water temperatures of roughly 48 to 50 degrees without any kind of protection, your heart rate increases. Your changing and breathing increases. And even your blood pressure changes as well. So that's the type of psychological impacts to your body as we impact -- or feel the impacts of cold water and cold water shock.

Now, in terms of visibility for this boat, we checked just moments prior to 1:30 and there was 10-mile visibility recorded. That is the clearest possible conditions that any kind of weather observation network could potentially report. So we don't see any concerns with visibility even though there have been some discussions about the potential of visibility problems on the ground.

And we've talked about the air temperature at 43 degrees. The good news is for this search and rescue operation is the radar is dry around Baltimore and the bridge and you can see the rain is well off to the west. We don't see that to be a concern until tomorrow.

But when we talk about the surge of water that is impacting this area we do have a coastal flood warning for this surrounding region, including the Patapsco River area, Baltimore, the nation's capital, and through the Del Marva Peninsula minor coastal flooding and dangerous rip currents that need to be taken into factor throughout this search and rescue operation, Kasie. So much weather and impacts here to unpack. But, really, water temperature is 48 degrees and we have this narrow window of time when it is so crucially important to get to those potential survivors there from this bridge collapse, Kasie.

HUNT: Yeah -- no, Derek, that was all great. And forgive me if you -- if you said this but can I ask you about the wind and what impact that might have? It seems like we may be lucky it's not windier than it is.

VAN DAM: Yeah, right, exactly. So a lot of things. We're not noticing winds greater than 10 miles per hour. So if there is any search and rescue boats that are perhaps navigating the waters and trying to stay still over a particular area, we don't anticipate the winds to be a concern now.


But with the approaching storm system that is coming in from the West, as what happens with approaching cold fronts, we get an increase in the winds. I'm not quite sure on the wind direction out of that but I would assume more of a southerly flow in advance of a cold front. And so, through the next afternoon and into the evening hours tonight winds will pick up. So that will complicate efforts.

And then on top of that, an added layer for this search and rescue operation will be the precipitation that will fall overnight and into the day tomorrow.

Here is the three-day forecast. And, in fact, you can see the chances of rain, just as I mentioned -- not today, but tomorrow, and high temperatures here in the 50s for that search and rescue operation with more rain on Thursday as well.

HUNT: All right, Derek. Thank you very much for that. Stand by. I'm sure we'll want to come back to you as people are just waking up and joining us and trying to figure out what we know at this hour.

And on that note, it's 5:40 here on the East Coast. If you are just waking up and joining us we are covering breaking news this morning. The Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland has collapsed after being hit by a container ship.

The video that you're seeing on your screen on the left-hand side is video of the moment of impact and collapse captured on a live stream of the bridge. That is a container ship called the Dali. It is out of Singapore carrying containers through the Baltimore Harbor.

On your right is a live picture of the scene at this hour from one of our affiliates. We are, of course, still in darkness here on the East Coast but you are seeing some lights from the search and rescue mission that was underway.

As of about an hour ago, we were told by the Baltimore Fire Department that as many as 20 people were in the water and that they are actively trying to rescue the people who are in the water at this hour. There were also, of course, multiple vehicles, including one that was described as being the size of a tractor-trailer. Unclear if that was actually a tractor-trailer or not, but it was the size of a tractor- trailer going into the water.

Of course, questions at this hour about how an incident like this could happen considering the volume of cargo and the number of ships that routinely navigate this waterway without any of us ever noticing that they are even there.

And for those of you who are joining us from outside this metropolitan area, we refer to this area as the DMV -- D.C., Maryland, Virginia. This is a critical commuter route on the Baltimore Beltway. It's I- 695. It circles Baltimore -- so anyone driving through this area. And also, if you're going up and down the East Coast, say, driving anywhere between Washington, Philadelphia, and New York City, you may find yourself on this road.

It's one of three interstates that cut through Baltimore and it's the critical one that is a bridge. This is where hazmat trucks drive because the other two are tunnels -- 895 and I-95 that run underneath the Harbor and the city of Baltimore respectively. So this is a critical route for truck traffic in an incredibly heavy-trafficked part of what's sort of broadly referred to as the I-95 corridor here along the East Coast of the United States.

The bridge carries 11 million people every year -- or cars, I should say -- 11 million cars traffic this bridge every year. It's called the Francis Scott Key Bridge in no small part because it crosses within 100 yards of the place where Francis Scott Key wrote the Star-Spangled Banner -- of course, the National Anthem.

We have a tweet this morning from the Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg who says they are offering federal resources to the response from Baltimore and Maryland officials. He says he's spoken with the governor -- that's Wes Moore -- and the mayor of Baltimore -- Mayor Scott in the wake of this vessel strike.

He notes that vessels remain under -- rescue efforts, excuse me, remain underway. He notes that drivers need to be careful here.

And we should note people are just waking up to this and figuring out how they're going to get to work. This is a major impact for people who are -- who travel throughout this area every day.

I'm joined by our senior law enforcement analyst Andrew McCabe, who has been helping talk us through what we know, what we don't know, and what investigators are going to be looking at here.

And, Andy, I realized you and -- you and I have talked through some of this already but again, we're going to get people kind of joining us throughout these two hours here this morning as they're waking up.


So let's just kind of reset a little bit. When people look at that video and they see this ship hitting that pylon dead-on they're going to have a lot of questions. What are your questions, and what are the questions investigators are

going to be asking? And how are they going to go about trying to answer them?

MCCABE: Sure. Well -- I mean, you teed it up well, Kasie. It starts with looking at the video and you can't look at it without wondering, like, how could this possibly have happened? It seemed the skill that it would take to directly impact a column seems to be like far greater than the skill it would take to avoid it as the -- as you compare the difference in the spaces.

We don't want to suggest that this was an intentional act but it's, of course, something that the investigators on the ground who are trying to understand how this horrible disaster took place are going to want to consider. And, of course, the place you start with that is the boat itself.

It's a Singapore-flagged vessel -- which, in and of itself, doesn't really tell us very much. The way that international shipping is conducted, boats are flagged in all sorts of different places. The name of the boat is the Dali. As you can see from those photographs, it's a pretty large container ship which, again, is very typical traffic for this area.

There is, of course, the massive port of Baltimore where a ton of products and material and stuff is all floated off of ships exactly like this every single day of the year. So this is a heavily trafficked commercial shipping area, which only increases your questions about, like, so why did it happen to this ship when so many ships pass through that same space safely probably hundreds of times a day? I can't do the math on -- off the top of my head here but it's a lot, right? This is, like, unbelievably --

HUNT: Yeah.

MCCABE: -- uncommon.

So they're going to want to start by talking to those folks on the boat to understand the complete timeline of who was on the boat? Who was in what positions? Who was actually piloting the boat? Who had access to the controls that could have steered or directed the vessel?

Where those folks were from. What their backgrounds are -- their training, experience. Whether or not they've been involved in any prior incidents on this boat or any other boats that they were -- they have been deployed upon.

They're going to want to know about their conduct leading up to the event. Whether or not folks have had the required amount of rest. How long they have been working. When they'd had their last meal. Whether or not they'd ingested any sorts of potentially altering substances -- like medications, or alcohol, or illicit narcotics.

And again, there is absolutely no indication right now. We're not working on any information that would indicate that was the case. But these are the sorts of generalized questions that investigators are going to be asking to get an understanding of, like, what was happening on that boat in the moments leading up to this -- to this event.

And then, as we discussed earlier, there's a whole array of technical questions. Understand the service record of this vessel. The last time it was maintained. Whether or not it has ever had any issues in the past relating to its control or direction.

They're going to be looking to see if there are GPS-enabled devices and monitors on that ship to get more granularity about how and when it was last adjusted and in terms of its course. Was this something that happened suddenly as they approached the bridge or was it a -- or was it an errant course that they had been set upon some minutes or even hours before?

So there's just really a universe of mechanical and then more human- related questions that they're going to be going into those interviews with. I'm seeing some reporting online that indicates that the company that owns the vessel has been contacted and is being cooperative, and that's really the biggest hurdle as you try to start an investigation over something like this.

HUNT: Yeah, cooperation absolutely key. Andy, that's so helpful.

I want to bring our viewers this. We've got a little bit of new reporting from the United States Coast Guard, the 5th District. They say that the -- it's a 948-foot container ship. The Dali hit the Francis Scott Key Bridge at 1:27 a.m. this morning. And, of course, we can see on the video that it subsequently collapsed.

It is unknown, according to the Coast Guard, at this time if there were any casualties. We do know that there are 20 people in the water, according to the Baltimore Fire Department -- or at least 20 people in the water.


The Coast Guard says they have multiple response units deployed for active search and rescue as there are reports of vehicles in the water. We heard that as well from the Baltimore City Fire Department. They say that Coast Guard units on the scene include small boats from Station Annapolis and Station Curtis Bay, and a helicopter from Air Station Atlantic City. So that gives folks a sense of where these are coming from.

Of course, Annapolis -- it's some distance from Baltimore but if you are in a boat navigating these waters, it feels like part of the universe that is Baltimore's Inner Harbor, the Chesapeake Bay -- the bridges that connect and serve this region of the United States. It's -- if it's something you are kind of used to being a part of, it does all feel very similar. So, Annapolis very close by.

We also have this just into CNN. The Maryland Gov. Wes Moore has declared a state of emergency in the wake of the collapse of the bridge. And the governor also says that he is in touch with other local officials, including federal officials as well, the Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg. He's also working with the Baltimore mayor, the Baltimore County executives.

He also goes out of his way to thank those first responders who are, of course, actively engaged right now putting themselves at risk to try and help the up to 20 people, or at least 20 people that authorities are saying are in the water. That's the Patapsco River that this bridge goes across.

Let's bring in -- I think Juliette Kayyem is also with us -- law enforcement analyst. Juliette, one of the noteworthy things about this particular crossing is that it is a land bridge as opposed to a tunnel and it I where hazardous materials are typically transported --


HUNT: -- because you'll, of course, see -- anyone driving on any of our major arteries will see that you're not supposed to take hazardous materials into tunnels. The other two major --


HUNT: -- highways that go through this area are tunnels -- the I-95, the 895 tunnel that go underneath Baltimore and the Baltimore Harbor respectively.

What does this mean for -- you know, as people are waking up here?


HUNT: I mean, honestly, there are a lot of companies that are going to be affected by this because this route carries a lot of tractor- trailers as well. They're going to have to figure out how to go around. It's going to be disruptive well beyond just what we see here on the waterways.

KAYYEM: That's exactly right.

So let's just start with, of course, the recovery is the most important. There are individuals that are missing who were in cars. But simultaneously, the investigation -- as Andrew was talking about -- will go forward in terms of the flagged ship. It is not a U.S. flagged ship and the personnel on it, and how something like this could happen. But then, of course, is now we've got to get -- we've got to get a city moving and safely, and that is the challenge here.

So the decision to put hazmat materials and to not have them go into the tunnels is a post-911 decision. This was when cities began to get smart about hazardous materials. How close hazardous materials would be to very dense areas. And they started to create alternatives.

One of the major alternatives here, of course, is waterways -- that you put the hazardous materials onto waterways. We don't know what the materials are. And so this becomes a very quick and efficient alternative to the tunnels. You don't have them now. So the first question is what is going to happen to presumably

hazardous materials and other materials that were not allowed to go in the tunnel? Baltimore is a -- also -- you know, this is a connected riverway. It's going to impact not just Baltimore or areas around Baltimore. It will impact a lot of the East Coast.

So what you have is the Secretary of Transportation in D.C. working with the governor and his emergency management teams -- his transportation teams to see what alternatives would be available.

I already know that notifications are going out to the private sector about them getting alternative routes because you don't want a lot of boats coming to this area and sort of hanging out because obviously, they can't do anything right now.

And so, this is not -- this is -- this is a big deal in the sense that we have infrastructure and transportation systems that rely on bridges not falling down. Let's just -- you know, in other words, they rely on these systems staying up. The alternatives tend to be limited.


And then, I guess I should say the third major factor is, of course, how people will live in the area. The alternative routes are not ideal. And so, both the governor and local jurisdictions, as well as the private sector, are going to have to be flexible in terms of getting people into cars, getting them into work. We know how to do things by Zoom. And so you're going to see just a lot of alternative workforce decisions being made because you just want to keep people off the streets.

There is no blessing here but there's a little bit of silver lining that this happened at one in the morning. You don't have greater fatalities, at least, of cars on the bridge.

HUNT: Right. And, of course, we don't want to --


HUNT: -- note, and emphasize, and underscore that they --


HUNT: -- are actively working on search and rescue and those --


HUNT: -- first responders are actively putting themselves in danger as we watch this unfold on our screens.

Juliette, thank you. Stand by for me.

I want to play a little bit of what we are hearing. We're only just starting to get eyewitness testimony in from folks who may have been nearby or seen, or been involved with this happening.

This is a former Baltimore fire official who spoke to one of our affiliates early on this morning -- watch him.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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, I got up again to check and I saw some emergency lights in the area and decided to drive up because I'm the old dog chasing the fire truck. And I came up here and what was in progress was a multi-jurisdictional response to a disaster, basically.


HUNT: Yeah, a disaster, indeed.

All right, I think we are joined now by our Gabe Cohen who has spent the early hours of this morning trying to get onto or into -- as close to the scene as he possibly can. There you are, Gabe. Since we last spoke earlier on this hour, you've obviously able to -- been able to find a place to set up.

What have you learned as you have been trying to talk to officials? Obviously, of course, they are actively engaged in trying to rescue the 20 people that they tell us are in the water. But bring us up to speed on what you know.

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kasie, as far as we can tell, this is still very much an active scene and an active search and rescue operation. We're about maybe a mile away from the bridge. It's hard to tell. But they -- police have that entire area shut down.

I want to step out of the way and just show you, though, the view that we have from this backyard along the river here. You can see the Key Bridge in the distance as you enter the bridge from the west side of it. And then you can see the point where the bridge just suddenly ends.

And just to the right of that you can see what looks to be -- what looks like the container ship still sitting there parked in the river. Around it, just pieces of the bridge that have collapsed into the water.

And as a look -- I don't know if you can tell from your vantage point, but as I look, I can see a lot of police lights dotting the water. It is hard to tell what's on land and what's in the water at this point. But we know that we have seen a lot of crews flying by us on the road making it seem like it is still very much an active scene.

And look, we have talked, Kasie, about the temperature of the water -- 47-48 degrees -- the temperature outside. But I can tell you just being here on the side of the river it is freezing cold in these early-morning hours. The wind is whipping right now. I am in a heavy winter coat and I am still cold. So you can report the conditions as they appear on a piece of paper but being out here in the elements, it is certainly freezing cold for anyone who might be in the water.

The wind -- the waves, I should say, it is choppy -- the water this morning. This is not some calm lake. This is a serious river coming in from the Chesapeake Bay into the harbor in Baltimore. So crews would have their hands full out on the water.

And certainly, these are serious conditions -- dangerous conditions for anyone who would have ended up in this water. Obviously, there are all kinds of scenarios, as you mentioned. Crews looking for potentially 20 people who could have been in the water. We don't have the latest on injuries but it has been described as a mass casualty event.

But look, Kasie -- again, out here in the elements it is brutally cold and dangerous conditions. And you just -- you think about the people who might have been affected here -- drivers who were on that bridge and the rescuers who are out there trying to save them -- it is a chilling scene here.