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Oklahoma Highway Patrol Media Availability

Aired May 27, 2002 - 15:00   ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: And now, live as promised to Webbers fall, Oklahoma, where Oklahoma highway patrol is helping in the investigation of why this bridge collapsed over the Arkansas River. You are about hear from Lieutenant Chris West.

LT. CHRIS WEST, OKLAHOMA HIGHWAY PATROL: ... victim trying to make identification. When they retrieved that vehicle from the bottom of the river, it created kind of a void where it had been laying and it stirred up a lot of debris. It also uncovered a lot of rebar (ph), a lot of concrete, and other obstacles for the divers which they felt were pretty burdensome to deal with.

In addition to that, I'm going to try to paint a picture for you. There's two concrete slabs underneath the water. It's two portions of the roadway that fell and they're kind of overlapping. The divers are explaining to us that they believe that there is additional vehicles as well as victims that are beneath that rubble.

And they feel like they need additional time to try to reconsider different methods to continue those recovery efforts on the vehicles that are underneath that rubble. They're also in the process of bringing additional barge with additional cranes to this location. We believe the estimated time is probably going to be sometime this evening.

Of course the weather has caused a little bit of problems. It's hampering our efforts. But one good thing that is going on right now is we got a sonar on the scene and it is actually running back and forth across the surface and it is mapping the bottom of the riverbed. And we're actually able to see good depictions of what it looks like, the rubble, the roadway, the vehicles, tractor-trailers and things of that nature. So that's a great benefit.

You've got to understand the divers are dealing in water -- they're explaining they can't seen any further than this right here, even with lights. So visibility is really bad. The sonar will be a great assistance.

Can we think of anything else? I think that is basically most of the updated information that we can provide. It just came from our incident commander at the command post.

We also don't feel like there's any reason for us to do an additional media poll after this time. They're really not doing anything any different than what we got earlier. They have suspended those efforts until we get the cranes here, until we can get it mapped with the sonar, and until they can decide maybe a different avenue of approach to deal with the recovery.


WEST: Well, we hope not. But, I mean, first and foremost is the safety of our emergency workers. We have safety officers that are down on the barge, and those guys are calling the shots. If our divers come up and give them information, then they assess that information and feel like they need to halt for the safety of everybody involved, that is what they're going to do.

So safety comes first. We're as anxious as anybody. We understand that there is families and victims that are out there. We need to do this in a manner that nobody's going to get injured.

QUESTION: So you're saying they can't feel any more vehicles, that now they believe...

WEST: No, I'm not saying that at all. We still have vehicles that are down on the bottom of riverbed. But, like I said, when they pulled this one vehicle out, they discovered that there are other obstacles down there that they want to think about before they approach it again.

Let me go ahead -- I've got some more housekeeping.

We're also not going to plan another scheduled briefing for today. If there's nothing going on, there's nothing for us to come back up and brief you on. We're not going to schedule another briefing.

If something does develop, where they begin the recovery efforts again, the cranes get here, or something that comes up that we feel like you are definitely going to want to know about, we're going to come and advise everybody. And we'll give you about an hour to get together and we'll have another briefing.

QUESTION: Based on what I guess would be like missing person calls or "I haven't heard from someone who is on the highway," from that kind of calling or information, do you have a picture of how many people could be missing?

WEST: Well I can tell you, these numbers that you have been helping us get to the public are being utilized. They are also calling us -- they're calling in and saying, you know, "My loved one is missing," "My boyfriend is missing," "Who can I call?" And, sure that definitely helps us in determining who we might be dealing with.

QUESTION: Do you have any kind of number to extrapolate from that?

WEST: I don't have any kind of number that I could give you.

QUESTION: What's the total vehicles and bodies that have been recovered?

WEST: The total number of vehicles that have been recovered since yesterday is three yesterday, one today, for a total of four; three yesterday, one today. The total number of victims is also four; three yesterday and one today.


WEST: Yes. (UNINTELLIGIBLE), what were those? Is it...

QUESTION: The one today is a female.

WEST: The one today is a female.

QUESTION: Three females and one male.

WEST: And yesterday, two females and one male. Let me go right here.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the recovery efforts have been suspended for now until you get the cranes (OFF MIKE)

WEST: Yes, the recovery efforts have been suspended. Right now, this weather is coming in, lightning is a concern. We're trying to get our people out of the water. And we're going to wait for the cranes to arrive.

QUESTION: Do you have any idea how many vehicles are still down there?

WEST: The question is how many vehicles. The divers told us earlier they thought there was still seven to nine, and we've pulled one since then. So I don't have a definite number for you.

The question is about the fisherman. We still haven't been able to confirm whether there's some fisherman under the bridge when it collapsed.

QUESTION: Any update on the pilot or the commander of the boat?

WEST: No. I do not have an update. I know -- the question is about the pilot of the barge, the tug that was pushing the two barges. NTSB is continuing their investigation today. And, really, I would rather stay away from those type of questions and let NTSB do their investigation, and then they can make the releases on that type of information.

QUESTION: Can you tell us anything about the record of that tug?

WEST: No, ma'am, I can't.


WEST: OK. There were a couple of individuals that wanted to the hometown of the man that was rescued, the truck driver that went off and survived. Ripley (ph), Mississippi, and his name is Rodney Tidwel (ph). Do we have any other questions?

I think I'm going to let the lieutenant from the Coast Guard or the core of engineers deal with that question. Come on up, lieutenant.

QUESTION: I don't know that either.

WEST: Ross (ph), do you know that one? A definite, for sure? Was it both of the barges that the tug was pushing or one of the barges that struck the bridge?

QUESTION: Oh, I don't know. Sorry.

WEST: OK. For those of you have not been down there, we've done the video pool. We've basically got a tugboat that's pushing two barges that are side by side. And as far as your question, I do not know if I can do that. They were latched together. I do know (UNINTELLIGIBLE) one of them hit it.

Now I don't know if you have seen the video or the still pictures yet, but I think it's going to enlighten you and give you a lot better idea of what we have down there. Any other questions? Right here.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on the outline of the surface of the water, is that the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that's set up to catch the debris?

WEST: Yes, there's a couple of booms (ph) that are floating in the river. They're from the west shore line and they go up probably 100, 150 yards. And there's about a series of three of those, and they're to capture debris, as well as like petroleum products that may be going down to try to keep the waterways clear.

There's a wildlife refuge that runs back to the south end, and so they're trying to just protect the shoreline and the waterways. One more question.

QUESTION: With regard to the recovery effort, you said suspended for today. Does that mean it's done for the day and you'll start tomorrow, or do you have...

WEST: Well, the question is, are we suspended for today, period? I don't have the answer to that. We're suspended right now with the weather, waiting on the assessment from the sonars, from the divers, getting the cranes up here. If it clears up and some of this materializes and they assess it and decide to begin again, we'll let you know.

QUESTION: Are they still mapping with the sonar right now?

WEST: Yes. OK. That's it. Like I said, no more briefings unless something comes up, and no more media pools -- thank you.

Well let me do this, does anybody have any questions for any of these other representatives.

QUESTION: For Terri Angier. WEST: Terri.

QUESTION: Was this bridge designed when there was heavy -- there was barge traffic on this river or was it before the navigation of them?

TERRI ANGIER, OKLAHOMA DEPT. OF TRANSPORTATION: I just spoke with one of our ODOT engineers in charge of that, and this bridge was designed with the navigational channel in mind. I haven't been able to get a date on when it was opened, but I know that was with that in mind.

QUESTION: Is there any concern about the rerouted traffic going over some of the other bridges that normally don't have that kind of traffic?

ANGIER: No. We would not put the traffic on those routes if we weren't comfortable that it could handle it. But, obviously, in terms of congestion, we are very concerned starting today and in the next six months, when we need to build that bridge.

QUESTION: How's the traffic out there?

ANGIER: Traffic has been OK so far. But frankly, with the Memorial traffic, this is about when you start to see those problems, between now and midnight. So we don't know. We're very concerned. Our guys are out driving some of the roads to make sure that they are going smoothly, but you can't really plan for those unless people help us out.

QUESTION: Can you say what the major choke points are, where you're having problems and where you anticipate problems?

ANGIER: Absolutely. Really, once you get past 69 on the west side and Highway 59 on the east side, it starts to become a problem getting those cars onto the smaller state highway. So we're asking people to avoid it altogether or get on 59 and 69 and get to Highway 9 and 64 as alternate routes.

LIN: You're listening to Terri Angier at the Department of Transportation there in the state of Oklahoma talking about they can try to reroute Memorial Day holiday traffic as people try to make their way home.




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