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Lou Dobbs Tonight

America's Crumbling Transportation System; At Least Four Dead in Minnesota Bridge Collapse; Chinese Toy Recall Issued

Aired August 02, 2007 - 18:00   ET


LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, rescuers continue their search for victims of the bridge disaster in Minneapolis. As many of 30 people tonight remain missing.
We will have the very latest for you on the progress of that search. And we will be reporting on what happened when that bridge collapsed, live reports from Minneapolis.

And Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who is on the scene, is among our guests here tonight.

Also, new concerns about the safety of bridges and highways across our entire nation. Parts of our highway system are literally buckling under the weight and the record traffic and congestion over them.

We will have that report and a massive new recall of dangerous contaminated toys, toys from communist China, only the latest in a series of recalls of dangerous imports from China. We will have complete coverage for you tonight, all of that, all of the day's news, much more straight ahead right here.

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT: news, debate, and opinion for Thursday, August 2.

Live from New York, Lou Dobbs.

DOBBS: Good evening, everybody.

As many as 30 people are still missing tonight after the collapse of an eight-lane highway bridge in Minneapolis. At least four people were killed, 79 other people injured in the bridge collapse. Rescuers now say the bodies of more victims may still be in cars that remain submerged in the Mississippi River.

The bridge collapse is raising new concerns of course and questions about the safety of this country's entire transportation system. Our highways, our bridges, tunnels, all of them seem to be aging, and many are long overdo for a replacement.

We begin our coverage tonight with the very latest on the search and the investigation from our Brian Todd in Minneapolis.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Investigators say they will enhance this video, which shows the bridge's collapse into the Mississippi River. They will also look at the design, history and maintenance of this doomed bridge.

It's tough detective work. And investigators say they have to begin by recovering key pieces of the bridge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will begin actually trying to reassemble them, not in a way where it's actually standing, but kind of in a jigsaw puzzle laying flat, so we can look at the various parts of this bridge and understand what made it fall down.

TODD: A crucial part of the probe, two reports on this bridge over the past six years which cited structural deficiencies and evidence of fatigue in some areas. State officials defend their actions regarding those reports.

GOV. TIM PAWLENTY (R), MINNESOTA: While there were concerns about stress and fatigues on aspects of this bridge, Mn/DOT has informed me that it did not result in a calling for an immediate replacement or closure.

TODD: Still, other officials offered some clues into this bridge's past.

DAN DORGAN, MINNESOTA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION: In 1990, it was classified as a structurally deficient bridge, due to corrosions of the bearings, so that they were not able to move as freely as we -- as designed. Since that time, as the years have passed, we have also had some corrosion of the steel around the joints of the bridge.

TODD: But officials stress, in recent inspections, they found no signs of cracks.

So, what do civil engineers think happened?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The only way that I can see is that there was some kind of major damage across all of the trusses of the bridge.


TODD: But this case is still very much of a mystery. One key unanswered question, did the construction that was taking place at the time of the collapse have anything to do with it?

I spoke to the head of the construction company. He tells me that his workers were only doing surface repair at that time, and that that repair played no role in what happened yesterday -- Lou.

DOBBS: And to our knowledge, there's been no work on the structure beneath the bridge, even though that was of concern to the inspectors?

TODD: Well, that's correct. And, again, we mentioned those two reports back a couple of years ago and back in 2001. There was another report back in 1990 which cited some corrosion and other problems in the ball joints. And we don't believe that anything was addressed at those times. But again officials keep stressing to us that, at each stage, whenever they got a report on what was going on, any structural problems, they were also told, they were given strong indications that there was no imminent danger of collapse.

DOBBS: And, as you stand there, give us your -- as best you can, your sense of the scene, what you see happening in terms of the rescue efforts that remain under way and the recovery efforts.

TODD: Well, Lou, I'm going to kind of take you over my shoulder here. We are going to pan down.

You can see just about maybe 300, 400 yards behind me where the drop-off point is. We are very close to the recovery efforts here. What the Army Corps of Engineers tell us now is that they are going to lower the water level of this river by releasing some water downstream to help recovery teams find bodies.

But, again, it's a very slow process. We are told that it may take days before they find everyone and everything in this river.

DOBBS: And rescue boats and rescue workers still at the scene; is that correct, Brian?

TODD: That's right, Lou. We are told of dive teams, boats all over this river. They are essentially drudging it with the human component now, sending divers down. That's very, very difficult work, murky water, a lot of debris down there, a lot of twisted metal. It's dangerous, but they are doing it minute by minute.

They're going to continue at least until nightfall. Now, last night, they broke at nightfall, because it is very dangerous when the sun goes down and there's -- it's total darkness out there, even if they floodlight the place. We will see if they do that this evening as well.

DOBBS: At the very best, difficult circumstances in this tragedy.

Thank you very much, Brian Todd, reporting from Minneapolis.

Survivors of this disaster describing what happened as that bridge collapsed. The survivors are among tens of thousands of residents in Minneapolis and surrounding communities who use that bridge each and every day.

One eyewitness said the bridge collapsed within just five seconds.


MATT LUNDQUIST, BRIDGE COLLAPSE SURVIVOR: Well, I was sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. And we were going about five miles an hour. And I felt some shimmying and then a big jolt. And at that point, that's when cars in front of me started to disappear. And I felt one or two more jolts. And the bridge, the small section behind me, collapsed. And I was able to just walk away.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was on the bridge. The bridge just completely went down. And it was about a 30- to 50-foot freefall. And my truck just completely split in half.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The whole bridge is in the water. I mean, it's down. And I thought, that can't be, but it was. I mean, everything was down. Everything was in slow motion.

WILL FARLEY, EYEWITNESS: It was -- it was chaos. In the first moments, everybody -- nobody was doing anything. Everybody was in -- was in utter horror. They were puzzled. They were scared and confused.

JEREMY HERNANDEZ, BRIDGE COLLAPSE SURVIVOR: I just heard a big bang and I thought we were in a car accident. But then I felt the bus going down, because I was feeling like I was going over the seat. Then it crashed. And it stopped. And then you could hear kids like moaning and crying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I ran over to the school bus. We were handing -- we were handing kids down about an eight, nine-foot drop and then -- and grabbing kids. And the ones that could actually walk, we were telling them, run. You know, run.

PAWLENTY: What you're seeing is stories of tragedy and heartbreak, but also stories of heroism and really miracles. And the response of the first-responders was terrific, an outpouring of support and help, but also just everyday citizens not running away from the danger, but running towards it.

And, if there's a silver lining in an otherwise just awful, awful tragedy, it's the goodness of Minnesotans shining through in that regard.


DOBBS: And President Bush today promising that the federal government will be doing everything it possibly can to help Minnesota recover from this bridge collapse.

Suzanne Malveaux has our report now from the White House -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, this really was the day that the president and his team had hoped to highlight the budget struggles here. But obviously President Bush emerging from his meeting with the Cabinet offered his condolences as well as full support of the federal government.

Now, tomorrow President Bush is going to be traveling to Minneapolis. Also the first lady will do the same on -- rather, tomorrow. He will go on Saturday. Her trip was already pre- scheduled. The president has already dispatched the secretary of transportation as well as the head federal highway administrator, a $5 million grant to help with the repair, the recovery, the logistics.

President Bush also made a call to the governor as well as the mayor of Minneapolis. And White House Press Secretary Tony Snow refused to say that this was really in response to lessons learned from the slow response to Hurricane Katrina. But, Lou, it is very clear that it's exactly that.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of the things we discussed was the terrible situation there in Minneapolis. We talked about the fact that the bridge collapsed and that we in the federal government must respond and respond robustly to help the people there not only recover, but to make sure that lifeline of activity, that bridge, gets rebuilt as quickly as possible.


MALVEAUX: And, Lou, the White House really took pains to emphasize it's Department of Transportation that sets the standards when it comes to the bridges.

But they say it is the state and local governments that are in charge of inspections and maintenance. Tony Snow was pressed a bit on whether or not to look at the system, whether or not it needs to be revised. He said, well, it is premature. It is just hour away from the time that these cars hit the water.

But, of course, they are going to be looking at that as well -- Lou.

DOBBS: Thank you very much, Suzanne Malveaux, from the White House.

Well, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, as Suzanne just reported, said a federal report two years ago identified structural deficiencies on this bridge. Snow said the bridge had a rating 50 on a scale with the best rating of 120. But Snow emphasized the rating did not mean that there was a risk of failure or collapse.

We will have much more on the bridge disaster ahead here.

Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota says a bridge in America just should not just fall down. She's among our guests here.

And another massive recall of dangerous contaminated toys from communist China. We will have details.

And a rising rebellion against President Bush and his own party. We will tell you why.

Stay with us. We will be back with more in just one moment.


DOBBS: Rescuers tonight continue their search for victims of the Minneapolis bridge disaster. Four people are known to have been killed. As many as 30 others are still unaccounted for, 79 people injured.

Divers searching the Mississippi River tonight for victims -- some of those victims may be trapped in the cars from which they fell into the river. We will have more on that bridge collapse later in this broadcast.

And we are expecting a news conference by first-responders, the sheriff, and various county officials over the next few minutes. We will be going to that live.

And members of the Republican National Committee have decided to officially break with President Bush on the issue of amnesty for illegal aliens. It is extremely rare for committee members to defy the Republican National Committee's leadership and a sitting president.

But, as Lisa Sylvester now reports, illegal immigration is an issue that is splitting the GOP.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): State GOP leaders want to send a strong message: Secure the U.S. borders. At their national summer meeting, 168 members of the Republican National Committee moved ahead with a resolution that demands completion of a border fence and using every appropriate additional means to seal entry to illegal immigrants, including using the Army and the National Guard.

RANDY PULLEN, ARIZONA REPUBLICAN CHAIRMAN: The Republican Party and the base of our party clearly are for securing the border now. And what the resolution does is it directs Congress that this is the highest priority to move forward with securing the border as quickly as possible.

SYLVESTER: Randy Pullen, the resolution's author, deliberately excluded other elements of the so-called comprehensive immigration plan, including the guest-worker program and legalization of illegal aliens. These are measures President Bush has long advocated.

DR. STEVEN CAMAROTA, CENTER FOR IMMIGRATION STUDIES: The state party leaders are the most in touch with the people. They have their finger on the pulse in a way that the president never could. And what they are saying is they simply don't agree with the president's amnesty or legalization approach.

SYLVESTER: The RNC's national leaders were trying to downplay any perceived split between the president and state party leaders over immigration. They pointed to a clause added at the last minute that acknowledges the president's border security proposals.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Bush administration has a comprehensive approach with regard to border security. And that comprehensive approach for border security is more than doubling or tripling the amount of money that would be used to secure our borders, up to $12 billion.

SYLVESTER: But backers of the resolution acknowledged a major difference. The president wants to fold in border security with legalization of the 12 million-plus illegal aliens. State Republican leaders want border security first.

The resolution reflects their frustration that Washington just doesn't get it.


SYLVESTER: The resolution was approved today by the resolution's committee. Tomorrow, a floor vote with the full RNC membership, and it is expected to easily pass -- Lou.

DOBBS: Lisa, what is the effect of this rupture, if you will, in the Republican Party?

SYLVESTER: At this point this resolution is largely symbolic. But what they want to do is to try to send a very clear message to Congress that they don't like the fact that Congress has not acted on border security. It is also to put pressure on the president to press Congress in this regard as well.

DOBBS: Well, this president has demonstrated himself to be inured to pressure. And the Republicans in the Senate have already made their statement about their position on amnesty. I'm not sure that it's still clear to me why that there would be this impulse right now.

SYLVESTER: Well, right now they feel that because the comprehensive immigration plan essentially fell apart in the Senate, they feel that there's now momentum to get Congress to act. And that's what they are trying to encourage Congress to do.

DOBBS: The idea of securing our borders and ports, an idea some six years after September 11, that one would think whose time has come.

Lisa Sylvester from Washington, thank you very much.

The Mexican government has a large presence in the United States to make certain that its citizens are here illegally or legally and taking advantage of all the benefits that this nation offers. In addition to its embassy in Washington, Mexico is maintaining 47 consulates throughout the United States. Most of them are near the border, including 11 consulates in the state of Texas alone.

In California, there are 10. No other nation comes close to that number of consulates, nor consular representation. Canada has 20 consulate offices here. France has 10, Great Britain 9. And so, the Mexican government has of course no shortage of officials to help its citizens here in the United States. But Mexico, perhaps, could better serve its citizens by helping them remain in Mexico, earn a living wage and avoid the deadly risk of entering into the United States illegally. Many of those, of course, crossing the border are dying in the desert. Deaths are up 22 percent over last year in fact. So far this year, 155 people have died trying to illegally enter this country from Mexico.

Turning now to a massive new recall of toys made in communist China, toys that could put our children's health at risk. This time, it's 1.5 million Fisher-Price toys recalled because they are contaminated with lead paint. Lead paint in toys has been banned in the United States since 1978.

The toys feature popular Sesame Street and Nickelodeon characters. All of the toys recalled this year were manufactured in China.

And, as Kitty Pilgrim now reports, China has long been aware that the use of lead paint in children's toys is prohibited in the United States.


KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Lead poisoning in young children can lower I.Q., affect learning ability and damage the liver and kidneys. But there are no immediate symptoms, so parents wouldn't notice if their child was ingesting lead from a toy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lead poisoning often starts without symptoms at all. They can be a normal child running around playing, but have an elevated blood-lead level, and you would never know it without testing them.

SYLVESTER: Fisher-Price found lead paint on nearly a million Big Bird, Elmo, Dora and Diego figures made in China between April and July of this year and imported into the United States.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission says it's a particularly bad case. The lead was in the yellow paint surface coating the toys, a blatant disregard of the ban on lead paint in children's toys.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission, manned with 100 field inspectors, is struggling against rampant Chinese violations of safety standards; 80 percent of all toys in the U.S. now come from China. And, from October last year, of the 306 recalls of products, 100 percent of recalled toys were made in China.

JOAN LAWRENCE, TOY INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION: There are a couple of bills being talked about in Congress that would enhance the safety system, and we would be in favor of those.

SYLVESTER: While there is a ban on lead paint, there is no ban on lead content in children's jewelry. Since 2004, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has recalled 165 million pieces of jewelry with lead that could leak out.

LORI WALLACH, PUBLIC CITIZEN: These kind of problems where you have really unsafe imported products flooding into our homes is going to continue until we change the trade rules.

SYLVESTER: The CPSC wants a total ban on lead in children's jewelry by 2008.


PILGRIM: Now, the Chinese are fighting the lead ban in children's jewelry. They say it's not necessary to limit the lead content in children's jewelry. They say it's harmless unless the product is damaged or cracked, and then the lead leaks out -- Lou.

DOBBS: The Chinese government is trying to talk the United States into forgetting all about that unpleasant lead thing?

PILGRIM: That's right.

DOBBS: This -- what in the -- the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Bush administration, the retailers, the distributors of these toys, how are they responding?

PILGRIM: Well, they are responding with -- they are overwhelmed with the amount of recalls they have to do. The CPSC has 100 field officers. They can't deal with the amount of violations that they are finding from the Chinese manufacturers.

DOBBS: Now, in this instance, who discovered -- and I think we should be very clear about this -- who discovered the lead contamination of these toys?

PILGRIM: The retailers discovered it.


DOBBS: The retailers are primarily?

PILGRIM: The last defense, basically. And they are responsible.


DOBBS: And they are which manufacturer?

PILGRIM: It's Fisher-Price, Mattel, yes.

DOBBS: And they were unaware?

PILGRIM: They have internal checks. It slipped through their internal checks and it was discovered later. Then they had to -- the toys had been sold. They were out in the homes at this point.

DOBBS: Unbelievable.

And, so, China has the arrogance to say, don't worry about lead in these contaminated products. They have the arrogance, along with the Bush administration, to say, even though this country cannot inspect adequately even the current levels of imports from China, send us more poultry, more products. This is unbelievable.

PILGRIM: They are resisting this lead in children's jewelry. It's the one-wide open thing. And they are resisting it. There's a meeting in September, and the Chinese are fighting this lead content rule in children's jewelry.

DOBBS: And who were the idiots who said that the standards in China -- I would just like to refresh everybody's mind, if we could, including my own -- just who was the idiot who said -- or group of idiots or agency of idiots -- that the Chinese safety standards were as high as ours?


PILGRIM: Well, USDA says they have...


PILGRIM: ... equivalency.

DOBBS: Oh. I just wanted to make sure.

Yes. Unbelievable.

Kitty, thank you very much -- Kitty Pilgrim.

Coming up next here, we will have the very latest for you on the bridge collapse disaster in Minneapolis. We will have a live report from the scene for you. We will be joined by Senator Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota. She's just back from the scene of that disaster, and she will join us here next.

We will also have a special report on our nation's crumbling infrastructure, the threats posed to public safety from aging highways and bridges and tunnels.

Stay with us. We're coming right back.


DOBBS: Divers in Minneapolis tonight continue to search the Mississippi River for victims of the bridge collapse disaster. Officials now say as many as 30 people are still unaccounted for. Four people are known to have died in the collapse of that bridge, 79 others injured. We will have more on this disaster later.

We will be going to a news conference by first-responders, county officials, including the sheriff there. And that is due to begin shortly.

Well, states all across the country today ordering urgent inspections of their bridges after the Minneapolis disaster. Nationally, more than one in every four bridges is described as structurally deficient. Our highway system is in fact crumbling, and state transportation departments are struggling to pay for maintenance and repairs.

Christine Romans has our report.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): America's roads and bridges are aging, many built a generation ago. They are carrying more traffic than ever imagined. Vehicle traffic has surged 39 percent since 1990.

The entire system is tired and showing its age. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, it would take $9.4 billion a year for the next 20 years just to repair deteriorating bridges. There are 46,000 of interstate highway, and the bridges in the system are a huge concern. About a fifth of interstate bridges are deficient.

These states lead the nation in deteriorating interstate bridges, all with at least 10 percent deficient or worse. This bridge in 2006 was rated four on a scale of zero, shut down, to nine, perfect.

REP. PETER DEFAZIO (D), OREGON: There are thousands of bridges that have a condition four problem on them. People are driving over them every day, and they don't know it. They think the government is doing better.

ROMANS: It's not like there isn't money. The last federal highway bill allocated $244 billion over six years, a record investment in transportation, legislation perhaps best known for Alaska Congressman Don Young's so-called bridge to nowhere.

STEVE ELLIS, TAXPAYERS FOR COMMON SENSE: It's not that we are not spending enough money. It's that we are not spending enough wisely. We need to be putting our funding to the most important issues and the most challenging issues facing us, rather than essentially pork-barrel spending as usual.

ROMANS: Six thousand earmarks in that bill. More than $24 billion of transportation funding went to pet projects. Who pays for it? Taxpayers. Half of highway spending comes from states, a quarter from the federal government, the rest from local governments.


ROMANS: The twist here, Minnesota ranks among the states with the lowest share of deficient bridges. Incredibly, the state of America's bridges and roads today is an improvement; 15 years ago, more than 34 percent of our bridges were considered deficient -- Lou.

DOBBS: Thank you very much, Christine -- Christine Romans reporting.

That brings us to the subject of tonight's poll. The question is: Do you believe federal, state, and local officials are failing to ensure the safety of our infrastructure, our bridges, tunnels, and roads? Cast your vote at -- those results coming up here later. Let's take a look now at some of your thoughts, many of you writing in about the bridge collapse disaster in Minneapolis.

Emmy in Mission said: "Dear Lou, you are the reason I'm willing to pay for satellite TV. The tragic bridge collapse in Minneapolis and subsequent reports of the work needed on our nation's infrastructure proves again that our government is more interested in rebuilding everyone else's country but our own."

And Vicki in Michigan said, "Do you think that the trillion-plus dollars we have spent on this war might have made our bridges, food, ports, borders, and everything else that's gone to hell in this country a little better, a little safer?"

And Matthew in Arizona: "So we are building new bridges in Iraq while our old bridges in the USA are falling apart. This is sad, this is real, this is a disaster."

We'll have more of your thoughts on the Minneapolis bridge disaster here later in the broadcast.

Up next, the very latest on that disaster. We'll have a live report from Minneapolis.

We'll be joined, as well, by Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, on the scene of the disaster. She's our guest.

And our crumbling bridges just one example of this nation's worn out infrastructure and the massive investment needed to invest in this country.

We'll be back with that special report and more.

Stay with us.


DOBBS: Senator Amy Klobuchar has just returned from her home state of Minnesota, where she reviewed the recovery and rescue efforts in Minneapolis and the damage caused by the bridge collapse.

Joining us tonight from Washington, D.C. after returning from Minnesota.

Senator, good to see you.

I know this has got to be a difficult time for you. But the...


DOBBS: Senator, can you hear me?

Can the senator hear me?


DOBBS: Apparently, the senator -- Senator Klobuchar, can you hear me?


DOBBS: Well, obviously, she cannot. And we're going to return to her as soon as we establish our audio connection there.

And for the very latest on recovery effort in the investigation into the deadly bridge collapse, we will be going, also, back to Minneapolis and our reporter Brian Todd.

Coming up next, the search for the victims. We now know that four are dead. As many as 30 remain missing. Almost 80 people injured. We'll have that report for you in just moments.

And we'll be reporting on 75,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country.

What is our government, our federal government and state governments doing to fix them?

We'll have that report.

And what about the rest of the nation's infrastructure, desperately need -- in need of repair?

We'll continue in one moment.

Stay with us.


DOBBS: For the very latest now on the recovery effort underway tonight and the investigation into the deadly bridge collapse, we're returning to Minneapolis, to our Brian Todd, on the screen of that disaster -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, I just spoke to a top state official who told me one of the big problems that they are running into now that's complicating this recovery effort is that many of the cars that we're talking about that are still stuck in the river are apparently pinned underneath this bridge, this fallen bridge. Many of them are underwater, underneath these massive slabs of concrete and they can't get to them right now.

They're trying. They're trying to lift as much of it as they can. But a lot of the cars, they just can't get to.

This official also just told me that one of the problems that they're running into is that several cars that they found in the water didn't have people in them and they're trying to track down where those people were -- whether they drowned, whether they might have drifted downstream.

One thing that may aid in the recovery effort here, we are told that the Army Corps of Engineers is going to lower the water level here in the Mississippi River by at least a couple of feet by draining some water out just downstream from the collapse point.

Again, as you just mentioned a short time ago, what we know now is four people confirmed dead. Officials have been telling me all day long that death total is expected to rise. And to get a sense, Lou, if these cars -- many of them, as this official just told me -- are pinned underneath these massive slabs of concrete, it may be several days before they get to them.

DOBBS: Brian, thank you very much.

Brian Todd from Minneapolis.

As we've been reporting here, Senator Amy Klobuchar has just returned to her home state of Minnesota, where she went to the scene of this disaster and witnessed much of the recovery effort and, of course, the damage from the collapse of this bridge.

Joining us now from Washington.

Senator, can you hear me now?

KLOBUCHAR: I can, Lou.

And it is...

DOBBS: Good.

I apologize for that.

KLOBUCHAR: All right.

It's very good to be on.

No problem.

DOBBS: Thank you.

It's good to have you here.

I apologize for those audio problems earlier.

Senator, this is a terrible tragedy. It is -- you were there.

Is there any further update on the number of people injured, the number of people that are known missing and dead?

KLOBUCHAR: Lou, right now we are still looking for bodies there. And I have to tell you, this is just a massive scene.

This bridge is only eight blocks from my house in Minneapolis. And I've have gone there over that bridge for days and days with my family. And to think of those drivers, I just keep thinking of people like me -- moms driving with kids in the back seat and suddenly this massive eight lane highway buckles under you.

And so, as you can imagine, they're trying to be very careful about this recovery work so no one gets hurt. I mean you've seen the scenes of these divers going in.

And one of the things I'm most proud about is we planned -- I was a former prosecutor there -- for these disasters, never thinking they would happen. But here you have the Minneapolis police, sheriff, they worked together.

When we drove in today from the airport, there were already actually billboards telling people where to drive to avoid the area -- billboards up, extra buses. The town was organized, prepared.

And while we'll never bring these people back and we know there's a lot of work to be done, I hope the world saw what Minnesota did last night.

DOBBS: Well, the world is -- we look at these pictures of this tragedy, that bridge that collapsed and this security videotape of the actual collapse itself -- Senator, it's clear now that there had been significant warnings about the deficiencies of this bridge.

Were you aware that there was so much concern and that this -- this bridge was certainly something to be very -- to be focused on in terms of repair and maintenance?

KLOBUCHAR: No, Lou, because what I've learned today from the secretary of transportation and others, there's 70,000, 80,000 bridges across the country that are classified that way, that are on lists. It doesn't mean they have to be closed down right away.

I will say this, Lou. We do not know what caused this accident yet.

DOBBS: Right.

KLOBUCHAR: We don't know what happened. But I tell you this, a bridge in the middle of America just shouldn't fall into the river. So that's why we want a prompt investigation.

DOBBS: Right.

KLOBUCHAR: And I think it will help us because we -- it's a reminder that we have to invest in our long-term infrastructure, as well as have that short-term emergency relief in place.

DOBBS: You know, Senator, you raise a very important point. One of the series of reports that this broadcast has been covering now for years is our crumbling infrastructure and the more than a trillion dollars required in investment to restore it to acceptable levels. That includes, of course, bridges and tunnels, highways, all across this country.

Do you believe there is the appetite and understanding, both in the United States Senate and in the House of Representatives, the White House itself, and, frankly, corporate America, to understand the need to invest in this country rather than to dissipate this country's wealth across a global economic system that is punishing more than rewarding Americans these days? KLOBUCHAR: You know, I hope that there is because I believe that priorities in our country have been out of whack the last few years. You know, we've spent, what, almost $500 billion in Iraq. I opposed that war from the beginning. I think that we have to put more into our own homeland security and into our own infrastructure.

And when those people were left stranded on that roof in New Orleans, it was really a mirror -- a reflection of the leadership of this country.

And I think there have been some improvements. We just passed the homeland security bill out of the Senate. But, obviously, we need to do more and look at the infrastructure in this country and figure out what needs to be done.

We've taken this for granted for too long and now it's beginning to catch up.

DOBBS: Right.

KLOBUCHAR: But, again, I stress, we do not know what caused this accident. I know as a prosecutor we don't want to leap to the solutions when you don't yet know what the problem is.

DOBBS: You have also moved with your colleague, Norm Coleman, Senator Norm Coleman, looking for response in support in the amount of a quarter billion dollars in federal funding to repair the bridge and to begin recovering from this disaster.

What has been the response of your colleagues in the Senate and White House?

KLOBUCHAR: Very positive. What we're trying to do here tonight is to, along with Congressman Oberstar in the House and Keith Ellison, the Congressman for this district, is to get the cap waived so at least as we go forward, we'll have the funds we need to rebuild this massive bridge.

I've got to tell you, we're having -- next August we have the entire Republican National Convention in Minnesota, along with our state fair, which is the second biggest in the country, at the same time. This is the major artery for traffic in the Twin Cities. And we're hoping we can work on this bridge promptly.

The investigation is going to take a while. But that can go on while the bridge is being rebuilt. We have a lot of ingenuity in our state. It's an incredibly hardworking place. And we're committed to rebuilding this bridge and getting to the bottom of this.

DOBBS: Well, that ingenuity and that character, as you well know, senator, is being severely tested now.

And we wish you and the people of Minneapolis all the very best of luck.

KLOBUCHAR: Well, thank you. DOBBS: Thank you very much for being with us.

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you for having me on.

DOBBS: Rescuers searching tonight for victims of the bridge disaster. As we have reported, at least 30 people -- as many as 30 people remain missing tonight.

The tragedy is raising concerns about the condition of this country's infrastructure coast to coast.

Engineers are warning us that we're simply not spending enough -- not investing enough to repair and to maintain our aging infrastructure.

And as Casey Wian now reports, the problem is not only bridges and highways.


REP. JAMES OBERSTAR (D), MINNESOTA: This is yet another wake up call for the nation's infrastructure. We have to make -- make a more robust investment than we're doing now.

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's an alarming fact. Despite the understandable concern about the nation's bridges, they're actually in better shape than virtually every other component of American infrastructure.

CASEY DINGES, AMERICAN SOCIETY OF CIVIL ENGINEERS: The infrastructure is, if you will, the backbone of the economy of the United States. And many times infrastructure systems are underground, out of sight, out of mind. And there's decaying and degradation going on that we don't even see.

WIAN: The American Society of Civil Engineers gives all of the nation's water-related infrastructure a near failing grade of D minus. Drinking water systems are so obsolete, many are threatening public health. More than 850 billion gallons of raw sewage spills into the environment every year because of broken pipes and decrepit wastewater systems.

The City of Indianapolis alone wastes a billion gallons of water every year.

And a record drought in California has underscored a critical shortage of water delivery and storage facilities.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: As you can see now, we had one dry winter and we are already in trouble. I mean everyone is scrambling and we have to have rationing in some places. And we have, you know, even though conservation is very important, but it only takes us so far.

WIAN: Residents of California and the Northeast know firsthand the inadequate state of the nation's power grid. Both have suffered crippling blackouts in recent years.

Dams pose an even more direct risk to human life. More than 3,500 U.S. dams are considered unsafe. One example, the Cherry Creek Dam and Reservoir near Denver. It has serious safety problems and threatens newly built homes, schools and office parks.

Faring only slightly better are the nation's airports. Runway congestion decreased following the September 11 terrorist attacks, but air travel has rebounded and there have been 272 near misses on runways so far this year, a 15 percent increase over last year.


WIAN: The American Society of Civil Engineers is outraged that none of the presidential candidates has made infrastructure an issue. The group says it's time for current political leaders and those who hope to lead in the future to make this a national priority -- Lou.

DOBBS: Well, that's one of the strong suits, I think, for both political parties, Casey, is the deep far-sighted thinking that they are bringing to bear on the challenges facing this nation. I don't know why any of us should be surprised.

I won't ask you to comment on that, Casey.

WIAN: Thank you.

DOBBS: Thank you very much.

Casey Wian reporting from Los Angeles.

The disaster in Minneapolis also raises serious questions about what the United States is doing to expand and improve its infrastructure.

Bill Tucker joins me now and has more on how new infrastructure projects are being funded -- Bill.

BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the situation with our roads and bridges can really be summed up in one sentence -- we're using them more and we're spending less on them.

The United States needs to spend $1.6 trillion over the next five years on its infrastructure, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, and we're not even spending 20 percent of that now.

Total spending on highways at the federal, state and local level rose in real dollars is 22-and-a-half percent from 1997 to 2004, according to the Department of Transportation. And most of that money is state and federal dollars. In 2004, the last year that the Department has numbers, total spending was $147.5 billion.

And, Lou, federal funding only accounted for 44 percent of that total. Most of the dollars now not going to build new bridges or roads. Over half of that money are going to what is called system rehabilitation projects -- repairs, repaving of roads, which was what happening on that bridge in Minneapolis.

Now, this slowdown in capital investment has come as congestion on the roads has risen. Almost one third of our roadways are considered congested, according to the Texas Transportation Institute.

And the conditions are deteriorating.

And we are spending some money on infrastructure, obviously. The infrastructure rebuild in New Orleans will cost more than $100 billion. Yucca Mountain, the storage for radioactive waste, a facility that may never open, we spent $58 billion. And on the big dig in Boston, $14.5 billion, and that doesn't include the lawsuits.

And, Lou, of course, we're spending about $1 trillion in infrastructure in Iraq.

DOBBS: Well, on infrastructure and a lot of other things. And unfortunately we're not succeeding in building -- rebuilding the infrastructure and creating new infrastructure in Iraq.

But the idea that this country has not taken on a major new infrastructure project at either the state or federal level for so many years is mind boggling.

TUCKER: It is. And we're using those roadways more. We have more trucks on those roadways than we've ever had before. And as the Texas Transportation Institute points out, there's a lot more of us on those roads. And we're just not building the roadways to accommodate that.

DOBBS: That's right.

And as Casey Wian pointed out, the idea that our electrical grid in this country, also a critical part of the infrastructure and requiring great investment, it still not being -- is not attracting capital. The idea our airports are in the state they are, the difficulty of raising the money, because so many of those airports, in particular, are run by quasi-government agencies, authorities, whether in New York, for example, the Newark-New Jersey Port Authority. They're outside the scope of true public control and democratic representation.

TUCKER: Well, and as you pointed out, we're not good at long-term thinking. We think in short-terms. We think of what do we need to do right now, now what needs to be done to prepare for the future.

DOBBS: I would only argue with we're not good at it. Americans have always -- I think we have, I think it's fair to say, a cultural characteristic, a part of our heritage.

TUCKER: Yes...

DOBBS: Americans tend to get lucky when they do two things -- when they think and when they work.

And, folks, let's start trying both of those again and I think we might be on our way for something positive and hope for all of us. TUCKER: I think you're right.

DOBBS: Thank you very much, Bill Tucker.

Still ahead here, we'll the very latest for you on the intensive search that continues tonight for victims of the Minnesota bridge collapse disaster. We'll have a live report when we continue.

Stay with us.


DOBBS: As we have reported, four people are known dead in the Minneapolis bridge collapse disaster, 79 people injured and as many as 30 people still missing tonight.

For the very latest on the recovery operation, we're going now to Mary Snow in Minneapolis -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, divers are still in the water at this hour but officials are saying this is a painstakingly slow process. This because of the very rough conditions in the Mississippi River.

Certainly, though, the currents were so strong this morning, the sheriff here told me they had to stop an operation at one point.

And, Lou, as you have been reporting, officials say at least 20 people are still unaccounted for.

What officials have been saying today is that they have not recovered any more bodies today. But at one point today, the divers went in. They were trying to find some vehicles. They found one that had been in the water before yesterday's bridge collapse. So this is going to be a very tough road for these divers, particularly because the visibility is so bad. And, also, the concrete and steel that is down there, it is very treacherous.

DOBBS: This has to be extraordinarily dangerous for those rescue divers, as well, Mary.

SNOW: It is. And the sheriff was telling me this morning, at one point when the divers went in, they had to stop one of the search missions at one point because of the currents were was so strong.

So they're really keeping a very close eye on how this operation is carried out.

DOBBS: And how late tonight are the -- are these rescue teams, the rescue workers, going to able to going to be able to work?

SNOW: That is still being decided. We still have a couple of more hours of daylight, but they're still deciding.


Mary Snow, thank you very much, from Minneapolis.


DOBBS: And we will be going to our poll question tonight, which is do you believe federal and state and local officials are failing to ensure the safety of our bridges, tunnels and roads in this country?

Cast your vote at

We'll have the results here later.

And coming up at the top of the hour, "THE SITUATION ROOM" with Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.


We're going to continue our breaking coverage.

School bus survivors, heroes. We're going to take you on that field trip that turned into a nightmare. Find out how one fast- thinking staff member helped get 52 kids out alive.

Plus, the search for the missing -- two daughters who last spoke with their mom as she headed home. We have their dramatic and very painful story.

Also, eyewitness to disaster -- we're going to hear from some of the divers and the drivers who managed -- some of the divers who are searching for the missing, as well as drivers on the bridge who managed to walk away unharmed -- Lou, lots of extensive coverage on this dramatic story coming up in "THE SITUATION ROOM".

DOBBS: Wolf, thank you very much.

Coming up here next, more of your thoughts and the results of our poll tonight.

Stay with us.


DOBBS: The results now of our poll -- 96 percent of you responding that the federal, state and local officials are failing to ensure the safety of our bridges, tunnels and roads.

And we have time to look at a few more of your thoughts here tonight.

This mail is a little unkind, but we thought we would share it with you anyway.

D.C. in Georgia said: "Hey, Lou, this government reminds me of 'The Wizard of Oz.' Cheney needs a heart, Gonzalez needs some courage and Bush needs a brain. What a government."

And Sandra in Iowa: "If the administration's new measure of success in Iraq is a lower body count of our soldiers, imagine how successful we'd be if we redeployed out of there."

And Geraldine in Louisiana: "Lou, you keep speaking out against illegal immigration. Lou, will you please give the Bush administration and the rest of those lawmakers the definition of the word illegal? It would -- it will be a good ideal to give them the definition of the word justice, as well."

Pete in California: "The Mexican government is exactly right about a border fence impacting the environment and affecting the ecosystem. It would prevent homo erectus mexicanus from migrating north."

And Louis in South Dakota: "Lou, I'm confused. President Bush supports amnesty for illegal immigrants, supports free trade that hurts the American worker and vetoes or threatens to veto any legislation that benefits Americans. Whose side is he on?"

We love hearing from you.

Send us your thoughts at

And we thank you for being with us here tonight.

Please join us tomorrow.

For all of us, we thank you for watching.

Good night from New York.

"THE SITUATION ROOM" begins now with Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.