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Baltimore Bridge Collapses after Being Struck by Ship. Aired 6- 6:30a ET

Aired March 26, 2024 - 06:00   ET


GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: 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.


KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: A chilling scene in so many ways. That video, of course, of the moment of the bridge collapse.

We are heading into the top of the 6 a.m. hour here. We are waking up to this. Our breaking news coverage continues on CNN right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

HUNT: Good morning, everyone. I'm Kasie Hunt, live in Washington, D.C. We begin this hour with major breaking news overnight.

A bridge in Baltimore collapsing after it was hit by a large container ship. Video from a livestream shows the moment of impact with the Francis Scott Key Bridge. That is the Dali container ship. You can see the bridge crumble into the water.

This happened at one -- about 01:30 a.m. Eastern Time this morning. Officials say that multiple cars fell into the river below, and right now, rescue crews are searching the river for at least 20 people. One official called the collapse a, quote, "developing mass casualty event."

This bridge is 1.6 miles long. There are four lanes of traffic on it. It is important to note, for those of you who may be local to this region, this is the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore. It is not the Key Bridge in Washington, D.C. that -- that connects D.C. and Virginia.

We do have team coverage of this this morning. Gabe Cohen is live on the scene in Baltimore. We also have with us a CNN senior law enforcement analyst, Andrew McCabe, and CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem. They are all with us.

Gabe, I want to start with you, because you have spent the last few hours making your way as close as possible to the scene. You noted last hour that you were in the backyard of a home, that -- where you can see this bridge behind you. I also do want to note, we are starting to get, you know, reaction

from local officials who are actively engaged. There is an Anne Arundel County executive, Steuart Pittman, who is writing on the platform X that he has spoken with other local officials, including the governor of Maryland, the mayor of Baltimore, the county executive, Baltimore County.

He notes that he's praying for drivers on the bridge, construction workers on the bridge, crew on the ship, and their families. So he is telling us that there was also -- there were also construction workers potentially working on this bridge.

Gabe, bring us up to speed. What do we know about this at this hour?

COHEN: Kasie, as we have mentioned, this is a significant search-and- rescue operation at this point to bring everyone back up to speed. This container ship a collided with the Key Bridge here in Baltimore around 1:30 a.m. Eastern Time.

If we can actually push in on the view that we have behind, it gives you a sense of how much of the bridge, or how little of the bridge is left at this hour.

You can see the point where the bridge just suddenly ends. Just to the right of that is the container ship that collided with a column of the bridge in the very early hours of this morning, sending most of it crumbling down into the water. You can see chunks of the bridge around that container ship.

And that is what set off this massive response and search-and-rescue operation. Fire crews worried that as many as 20 people might be in the water. There were reports, as you mentioned, of cars that had fallen into the water, potentially a tractor trailer or something roughly that size, as well as maybe we even construction crews that were on the bridge.

We don't know what the latest is on any potential injuries at this point, but as you mentioned, it is considered a mass casualty event. And we know that there are divers and crews in the water.

And as I mentioned, just a few minutes ago, just being here on the river, heading into the harbor in Baltimore, conditions are frigid. The waves are choppy. The water is not calm at all. And I'm not sure what the temperature is at this hour, what supposedly it feels like, but I can tell you from my vantage point, it is freezing cold. I am in a heavy winter coat, and it is still extremely chilly out here.

The water potentially 47, 48 degrees. And so Kasie, that is -- that is why this was such an urgent search for these people who could be in the water, because if they're not in their cars, people can only live so long in water that temperature. One to three hours maybe.


And so I can see from my vantage point, a lot of police lights around the bridge. It's hard to tell whether they're boats in the water or cars on land. We know, though, this is about as close as we could get to the bridge at this hour, Kasie, because police have both side of the bridge locked down at this point, closed off to any vehicles that are not those emergency first responders.

And look, when we pulled up to the scene, we spoke with an officer and asked where they were from. They said, well, this is not their jurisdiction. They're getting called in. So it's several agencies from across this area, this part of Maryland that are getting called to the scene. Federal agencies also involved in this rescue operation at this point.

And we're hearing of course, from a lot of officials, including Brandon Scott, the mayor of Baltimore, who a couple of hours ago had said he was aware of the scene. He was heading to the scene.

But we can tell just from where we are, Kasie, that there is -- the bridge is gone. I mean, that's it. And it is shocking. And just speaking with people in this little neighborhood where we are, we talked to the -- the family that lives in the home we're in the backyard of. And the woman we spoke with was in shocked. She said this is unbelievable to see.

This is a bridge that as you mentioned, is critical. It's part of Baltimore's identity. It is critical for travelers across this entire region. So there are going to be -- there's going to be a huge ripple effect.

But as of now, we are still, from a very far vantage point, watching a rescue operation unfolding. And it is stunning to see that container ship just sitting there, dark in the middle of water with nothing around at what was a bridge going over, you know, Interstate 695 heading over the river here is just gone.

HUNT: Just gone, Gabe. I mean, it's -- it's -- it's a stunning, stunning reality to wake up to at this. It's just a few minutes after 6 a.m. Eastern Time.

This incident occurred around 1:30 a.m. Eastern Time this morning. The Singaporean-flagged container ship Dali colliding with the support structure on the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland, one of the key arteries that carries traffic. It's four lanes of traffic over that bridge.

It's named for Francis Scott Key, in no small part because it's about 100 yards from where Key wrote "The Star-Spangled Banner." This overlooks the site of Fort McHenry.

And this stunning video is what you can see. What first responders heard this morning as they were trying to grapple with what happened. This is very brief, but it's very stark. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Be advised the entire bridge, the entire Key Bridge in the harbor.


HUNT: "The entire Key Bridge is in the harbor." And you, of course, can see that, because it was on live stream right there.

Andy McCabe, if you're with me, I'd like to bring you into this conversation, because again, you can see this when you watch it. And I know it's a question a lot of people are already asking. And I want to make sure that we are thoughtful in how we talk through this.

This ship hits that pylon directly, that support structure, and just causes the entire bridge to collapse into the harbor. As investigators are looking at that, this is obviously an incredibly heavily trafficked area going into the harbor of Baltimore. We know this ship was actually on its way out with a destination of Sri Lanka, apparently.

But this is something that drivers -- I mean, if you remember that bridge, you drive back-and-forth over this all the time. None of us even really think about it. When you're driving out, you know, towards the Chesapeake Bay, you will see container ships like this by the dozens, you know, waiting for their turn to kind of navigate this route.

What are your questions right now? What questions are investigators going to be asking about how this happened?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Sure. So you're absolutely right, Kasie. You look at that video, and it tells a big part of the story.

It appears just from the video, for -- you know, for those -- those many of us who are not trained in steering massive cargo ships the - the odds of hitting that post are infinitely smaller than, than getting into the space around it. So there's some -- there is a reason that that boat hit that post.

It's probably enormously more likely that those reasons are founded on causes like mistake, lack of training, negligence, things like that. But -- but investigators are going to put all of that on the table and are going to be wanting to press into and really establish a very clear, minute by minute, almost second by second timeline of all of the events, the actions, the thoughts, the decisions, the conversations that were taking place on that vessel in the lead-up to that impact.


So when that's -- that's really where they start.

And again, you know, to put this in proper perspective, there are folks that I'm sure are working on those problems right now. But the majority of the law enforcement response here is on rescue and recovery. We are still well in that phase of the disaster.

I think it's probably important to point out that the road, 695, is of course, a toll road. And so those toll facilities, both before and after the bridge, on either side of the bridge, can help first responders and establishing just the number of vehicles that they may be looking for in the minutes surrounding that impact. Right?

So they're going to want to start with the question of how many vehicles were there on the bridge at the time. And if there's not really perfect video or livestreaming coverage that enables you to figure that out, they have resources like those toll facilities to be able to see, well, we know how many cars were passing in either direction at about the approximate time.

And then they'll be locating those vehicles, identifying their owners, trying to contact people to ensure that they got off the bridge before -- before disaster struck.

So it's -- you know, these are not -- these aren't time-tested skills, right? This stuff doesn't happen every day. But fortunately, we have incredibly well-trained folks who are -- understand the resources and the infrastructure around that bridge, the highways that feed it, communities that are in that area.

And they'll be relying on all that knowledge and expertise to try to understand exactly how many folks and how many vehicles they need to be looking for that in that -- in that cold, dark water.

HUNT: Well, and this is -- this is why we say thank you to our first responders and the people who do this every day; because they're the ones who take the calls at 1:30 in the morning when something like this happens, and suddenly, there are people whose lives are depending on them.

And now we know there are divers in the water here, that cold water, as has been pointed out, risking their own safety to try and rescue these 20 people that reportedly, according to law enforcement officials, at least, are in the water.

Gabe, let me -- let me come back to you, because we are learning it's 6:12 a.m. Eastern Time. We've been alerted that they plan a press conference at 6:15 a.m. Eastern Time. So we do want to be aware of that. We're going to take that live when it comes in to us, if we do hear officials at that time.

We should also note that responses have been rolling in from local, state, federal officials. We've heard from the transportation secretary this morning, Pete Buttigieg saying he has offered federal resources. The governor, Wes Moore, of Maryland has declared a state of emergency and says that he's working with inter-agency teams.

We've also heard from the mayor of Baltimore that they are monitoring this. And the way things are set up in Maryland, there also are county executives who are involved in this response.

We also know that the Coast Guard is involved. They have given us some details about their resources coming from Annapolis and other Coast Guard stations. A helicopter from the Coast Guard station in Atlantic City actively engaged in this search-and-rescue. What else kind of are you hearing it? And are you seeing, if you want

to show us your vantage point over the river? We currently have up some live pictures of the bridge from our affiliate, but I know you have a unique viewpoint, as well.

COHEN: Yes, Kasie. I'll step out of the way and just give you a look at what we're seeing behind, because it -- it really paints a clear picture, even from this distance.

Look, we can't get any closer. Those police and first responders still have the area around the bridge on both sides completely shut down as the rescue operation is underway.

But you can see enough from our vantage point to see where the bridge just suddenly ends and where that container ship just to the right of it is still sitting, it seems in the middle of the water. No lights on it. It seems to be dark. And around it is seemingly nothing except the remnants of the bridge that was the Key Bridge.


You can see some chunks of the bridge, and it's what's left. From the video, you clearly see the moment where the container ship collided with the column and sent the bridge collapsing into the water, broken into several pieces. And some of those pieces are still above water.

But Kasie, yes, we're -- we're waiting for an update from first responders, because up to this point, they really haven't said how many injuries there are, what they know about how many people are in the water. And they said it could be as many as 20 people that they were searching for here in the river.

But that number was a little unclear. It was seven at first.

And we know that divers had been in the water. They are trying to pull people out, but the concern was that people were inside their cars, which had fallen when the bridge collapsed.

And so we can see from our vantage point a lot of police lights. It's unclear if any of those are boats that are in the water, assisting with that rescue operation.

But really, the information is limited right now.

But Kasie, again, I can't emphasize enough just how brute -- how brutal conditions are out here along the water, far more so than I would have expected as I drove up here and I looked at what conditions this morning would have been. Temperatures, you know, near 40 degrees, the water temperature around 48 degrees.

But it is not mild out here. It is extremely windy. The water is choppy. It is, from our vantage point, frigid. I can feel, you know, the cold, brutal wind. And I can only imagine what it is like for the crews out there and for anyone who might have ended up in that water.

And that's why crews are particularly -- those rescuers are worried, because you know, a person could only last so long in water of that temperature.

HUNT: Yes. No, absolutely, Gabe. And to that point, I want to bring in our meteorologist, Derek van Dam, to give us a little bit more context on this.

Derek, as Gabe is reporting and experiencing himself, it might be spring, but it is cold out there; and 48-degree water is much colder when you are in it, than 48-degree air. What are these people dealing with?

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. In fact, cold water drains body heat about four times faster than cold air physically does. So that's really saying something about the survivability times of the potential of people in the water.

We don't know how many people. But assuming what we've seen on video and the reports we're getting from authorities on the ground that it is likely that people here are in the water.

So what are they dealing with and what are they contending with? Well, you know, a 50-degree water temperature might not seem like that cold, but it can be very deadly. And it is because of the risk of hypothermia, because of the risk of cold shock. Your heart rate increases, your breathing increases, your blood pressure even changes.

And we've got this graph to just give examples of how long -- this is plus or minus an hour or two on either side of this -- but water temperatures within 40 to 50 degrees. Human survivability, on average, is between one to three hours. And we're approaching the five-hour mark since this event occurred, roughly 1:30 in the morning.

So there's a lot to be said and a lot to unpack with what conditions are like in the water, but also above the water, as well.

Think about the search-and-rescue operators that are on the scene as we speak. You heard Gabe talk about how frigid it feels like outside. Well, that is because of the wind chill.

Right now, the air temperature is roughly 37 degrees near Baltimore, but the winds are enough of a factor. I know it looks light here, but that's enough of a factor to bring down those windchill temperatures --- that is your apparent temperature on your exposed skin as you step outside -- to roughly 36 degrees.

So as we look, as temperatures through the course of the day today will bottom out at about 34 and reach a high of 51 today. So water temperatures absolutely rigid and could be deadly -- Kasie.

HUNT: Yes. Now, Derek van Dam. Derek, thank you very much for that.

Again, for those of you who are just joining us, it is 6:18 a.m. here on the East Coast. We are waking up to this just horrific breaking news.

The Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland, collapsing into the Patapsco River after it was hit by a container ship. You saw it there; hit the support pylon on the left side of your screen and collapsed down into the river.

The reports coming over the trans as emergency response officials were grappling with this, say the bridge, the Francis Scott Key Bridge, is in the harbor. This is a major -- a commuter root in the Baltimore- Washington region. It is known as the Baltimore Beltway. It is 695 is the name of the highway.


It circles the city of Baltimore. It is the main transit route for many, especially trucks carrying hazardous materials.

We have heard early -- our early reports from Baltimore city fire officials were that 20 people were in the water, as well, as a number of vehicles, including one vehicle that was the size of a tractor trailer. Unclear if that's actually what it was, but it was described as being the size of a tractor trailer.

The ship in question called the Dali. It was outbound from Baltimore Harbor, heading for Sri Lanka. And as we said, it hit that pylon, according to the Coast Guard at 1:27 a.m. ET this morning.

So we are now waiting for officials to brief the media with what they know, or don't know, about how this happened and the current search- and-rescue efforts that are underway.

We know that there are divers in the water, trying to rescue people that may have come off that bridge. One county executive, the Anne Arundel County executive, noting that he was praying for construction workers who may have been on that bridge at the time of this collapse, as well.

So you've got cars that were driving across it, potentially construction crews that were working on it. Of course, there's the crew of the ship itself that is also feeling the ramifications, potentially in danger. And now, of course, you have first responders in the water, trying to do the best they can to pull people out.

We've also heard from the Coast Guard at this hour. They say that they have sent boats, as well as helicopters from their station in Annapolis, their station in Curtis Bay, the helicopter coming down from Atlantic City air station. So this really a response at all levels of government.

Now, Juliette Kayyem, I know this is actually exactly your area of expertise. Government response, risk management, crisis management. Can you help us understand how these agencies are working together at this hour and what happens next?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Right. So we're -- the focus is on response. It's going to be led by the Coast Guard and then local and state officials. So I want to --

HUNT: And Juliette, excuse me. Let me just interrupt you briefly. I have not yet mentioned that we also heard from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, from the FBI, that FBI Baltimore personnel are on scene.

KAYYEM: Great.

HUNT: So if you could help us understand their role here too?

KAYYEM: Yes. OK. So there's different pieces. So let's start with the response or responses. We're hoping that people are still alive. I have to admit, because I can -- you know, I only want -- It's a low probability event that people would have survived for this long. We just know that.

And so relatively quickly, that response apparatus, and especially with daylight, will then begin to shift to the pieces that we're discussing. The first is the investigation.

Look, there -- we have to find out whether there's something called a harbor pilot on this ship. Harbor pilots are brought in by the jurisdiction and help a ship get out of a high-risk area as we're seeing.

This -- so this looks to me -- and I've -- I've talked to people in the Coast Guard this morning -- that this was such a direct hit that we have to assume either mechanical error. In other words, they could not control the ship. And there might be radio discussions to that extent.

Or no one was in charge. In other words, someone just left the steering.

So you're going to look to how could this happen.

The third is -- is the bridge itself. This is a span bridge. It means, as anyone who's ever been over one, that it's connected like a domino. And so a single hit in an area is going to bring the whole bridge down. It is not survivable. This is not a patch fix. We're seeing what is going to happen.

So then the fourth piece, as we're discussing with all these federal agencies, is now the alternative. The city has to move. The nation has to move. And what alternatives are available, first for hazardous materials. This to me is the biggest focus. This bridge was the alternative to putting hazardous materials in the tunnels that are around Baltimore. That was a post-911 shift, when cities got a little bit more serious about what was coming into their jurisdictions.

So you're going to have a hazardous material problem of things getting out of -- of these waterways. So what alternatives are available?

And then you have the citizens of not just Baltimore but, of course, Maryland and D.C. And we're going -- and the secretary of transportation, working with state transportation officials and local transportation officials, are going to have to find alternatives; and also work with the private sector to relieve the traffic and transportation demands that normally exist on a -- on a regular day.

[06:25:06] These alternatives are often worked through, but normally for short- term weather events, right? You have -- let's say you have to close a bridge, you know, a couple hours. This is going to be months and is going to have a national impact. Our waterways, our supply chain systems, our navigation systems, the maritime system are all connected.

And something like this happens, however rare, it become -- its ripple effects will impact commerce and other -- other transportation demands that this nation has.

So I'm not surprised that the secretary of transportation is on this. Their job is to start to help the city and state get alternatives, because that's what we need now, as well, as we -- as we look at this horrible incident and try to hope that people are still alive.

So response, investigation and -- and then the alternatives are the three different areas that we're looking at now in any -- in any crisis. And then the federal pieces are going to fit into all of those at this stage.

HUNT: OK. Juliette Kayyem standing by for us. Thank you, Juliette, very much for that.

We've got what look like officials walking to microphones here at this news conference that we have been anticipating. We are going to listen in here. We are going to bring you at whatever details we can about who these folks are. Let's hope they identify themselves at the top.

BCFD, that's Baltimore County Fire Department. And they, of course, have been providing much of our information this morning. Let's listen.

CHIEF JAMES WALLACE: Hey, good morning.

My name is Chief James Wallace. I'm the chief of the Baltimore City Fire Department.

I'm joined this morning by our mayor, Brandon Scott; Council President Mosby; Councilwoman Porter; County Executive Johnny Olszewski; and Baltimore County Fire Chief Joanne Rund.

Our brief this morning will be an update on the search-and-rescue operation that's ongoing at this point.

So at approximately 0140 hours this morning, our 911 center dispatched a call to the Baltimore City Fire Department for report of a water rescue in the Patapsco River in the area of the Key Bridge.

As units were responding, they began to receive numerous calls indicating multiple people in the water. At some point during that -- that chain of events, of calls, we began to receive indications that a a ship may have struck the Key Bridge. We got further information through multiple calls that the Key Bridge -- portions of the Key Bridge had actually collapsed. At about 0150 hours, our first unit arrived on scene and reported a complete collapse of the Key Bridge. We were also given information at that time that there were likely multiple people on the bridge at the time of the collapse and that, as a result, multiple people were in the water.

We were able to remove two people from the water. One individual refused service and refused transport. Essentially, that person was not injured. However, there was another individual that's been transported to a local trauma center that is in very serious condition.

At this time, we have multiple air assets from the Maryland State Police, as well as the Baltimore Police Department, as well as multiple Marine assets from around the region, including Baltimore City, Anne Arundel County, Baltimore County, as well as multiple local and state police agencies: national resources police, BPD Special Ops unit is in here. Maryland State Police is here. We have multiple resources.

We are still very much in an active search-and-rescue posture at this point. And we will continue to be for some time.

We have a large area that we have to search. This includes on the surface of the water, subsurface, as well as on the deck of the ship itself.

We believe at this point we may be looking for -- we may be looking for upwards of seven individuals. That's the latest information we have. However, what I will say is, is the information that I'm giving you right now is as of right now. That's what we know right now.

This is a very large incident. It involves a very large footprint. Multiple agencies are operating. Therefore, information is subject to change as we get more intel. And as our crews work through the morning.

Over the next eight to 12 hours, you can expect to continue to see our air and maritime assets functioning out on the water and in the air above.