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7 Dead, 62 Injured in Bridge Collapse

Aired August 2, 2007 - 02:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Assistance came, there was a couple of sheriffs that come over there, then the state patrol (inaudible) and I told them, they asked me what I was doing and I told them I'm in Clark (ph) for (inaudible) seven times and I'm the head lifeguard out there.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You were on your way to a Twins game, is that right?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Describe where you were heading and what went through your mind when you saw it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was pretty shocked and I was there, it was pretty well - I can't describe how it was, shock and it's the first time I had seen something like that happen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why are you here tonight? Why did you come to the hospital?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I came here to check on individuals I helped and they congratulated me for saving them and there's a couple people that's in pretty critical condition and they're pretty well - pretty hurt bad, I should say.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And hospital staff let you talk to them or at least make contact ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They made contact with me and they gave me information saying that they were pretty well - being treated pretty good so ...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, Corey (ph). Thank you so much for your information tonight. Again, we just wanted to let you know that there's still some activity at the hospital, people coming and going as they're checking in on relatives, but again, the hospital staff, from the inside, people who are coming out saying they are doing just a fabulous job of connecting them to their relatives and giving them all the information, of course, they so desperately want.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: That last report coming from our affiliate KSTP on at least 62 people injured. We're now talking about seven hours after a span of a bridge in Minneapolis collapsed. It is 2:00 Eastern Time, 1:00 Central, 11:00 p.m. West Coast Time. Seven hours after a 150 meter span of an eight lane steel and concrete bridge in Minneapolis collapses. At least 50 vehicles are believed to have plunged into the Mississippi River. We heard many people describe rescue efforts underway all throughout the evening. It was a crowded bridge, the height of rush hour traffic, and as you heard, that one gentleman in that report talking about a Twins game that was already about to be underway in the city.

It is ordinarily a very popular and heavily traveled bridge. It was undergoing some repair work. We've heard the description of the repairs from concrete repair and joint repair, something that is very typical, resurfacing effort which usually takes place in the summer months. This is a bridge that is subjected to a lot of hardships, particularly because of the harsh winters, the freezing rains and those conditions and so in the summers they ordinarily conduct these kinds of repair work.

A number of federal as well state officials are on the ground there to continue and to resume conducting some inspections as early as tomorrow as they try to piece together what exactly may have taken place. A number of witnesses have said they heard a kind of rumbling that then precipitated the falling of debris, concrete structure right there, you're looking at various images, just plummeting into the Mississippi River.

We've been receiving a lot of information from our I-Reporters as well as city officials throughout the evening, updating us on the latest information. One city official saying they are confirming that seven people have died as a result of the collapsing of this bridge, 62 people injured, and again, 50 vehicles they believe may have plummeted into the Mississippi River.

Our Randi Kaye brings us up to date.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just after 6:00 p.m., smack in the middle of rush hour, the Interstate 35 W Bridge between Minneapolis and St. Paul just broke apart, sending cars plunging into the water. Others teetering on the edge. Panicked drivers trapped inside.

JOE COSTELLO, WITNESSED BRIDGE COLLAPSE: I saw a bunch of smoke, white colored smoke, shoot up straight up into the air from the south end, first, actually, and then it rippled to the north end. So the south end when down first, followed by the center section, and then it rippled to the north end. Very strange noise, as a lot of wind (ph), with that amount of weight.

KAYE: Witnesses say dozens of cars were on the bridge when the center section began to crumble, then collapsed into the Mississippi River below.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just completely gave way. The whole bridge from one side of the Mississippi to the other, just completely gave way. So all the way down, I probably had a 30, 35 foot freefall and there's cars in the water, there's cars on fire, the whole bridge is down.

KAYE: The bridge fell without warning. Witnesses say a school bus loaded with children was trapped at the top.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I realized that a school bus was right next to me and being (inaudible), other guys went over and started lifting the kids off the bridge. They were yelling, screaming, bleeding, I think there is some broken bones.

KAYE: A desperate attempt to save lives before the mighty Mississippi could swallow them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I did see some get out through their sunroofs and check on others.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I fell probably like 30, 40 feet, landed on the shore of the Mississippi. So lucky to be alive. On the way down I thought I was dead. I literally thought I was dead. My truck was completely face down so it was pointing towards the ground, falling towards the ground and my truck got ripped in half. When I got out of my truck it was folded in half and I can't believe I'm alive.

KAYE: Rescue boats worked the water. Those on the riverbank also pulled people to safety. Battling the mangled concrete and twisted metal to save strangers. The Fire Department stayed busy, trying to put out a tractor-trailer fire. The Minnesota Department of Transportation says the 35 W Bridge has been under construction since the beginning of summer. It had been shut down overnight but reopened for daytime traffic. Road crews were repairing potholes and resurfacing the bridge. Still unclear if that caused this.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


WHITFIELD: This bridge was built in 1967 and has underwent a number of inspections so the focus now, what went wrong. Here's Tom Foreman.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: As investigators try to figure out why this bridge collapsed the way it did, they'll no doubt consider a study by the American Society of Civil Engineers, which found that in more than half of more than 500 bridge failures in the 1990s, water really was the culprit. Water washing away at the banks over here or at the pilings in the middle, weakening bridges and making them simply fall apart.

What do we know about water in this area? Well, we know that this bridge is right below a dam which tends to focus the water. You see the white water here in very natural circumstances. That's a lot of force moving down a very big river. We also know in the past few weeks, they have had explosive thunderstorms in this area. They've had flooding on this very roadway further down, flash flooding that caused a lot of problems, all of which potentially could have weakened something in this bridge.

What else do they have to consider? They have to consider structural issues. Was there a weak joint somewhere in here? Many witnesses say that the bridge went in sections. Some people say it went here, here and here, very rapidly. So it appeared to be almost at once, but nonetheless, in three sections.

Bridges like this are actually very dynamic and balanced structures that have to be intact. If you don't have an redundant supports out here, a failure here can weaken everything and make it all fall down when, in fact, the original failure was a small failure in an area like this.

One more issue to consider are thermal events. Concrete doesn't like it when the temperature changes dramatically. In this very area, only a few weeks ago, the temperature changed more than 20 degrees in just two hours. That also can have a weakening effect.

So as investigators look at this, they're going to be looking at the structure itself, was it fatigued? Was there something wrong with it that caused a joint to fail and the whole bridge to collapse? They'll be looking at water, certainly, because that's a big factor. Did that weaken it? They'll be looking at temperature. And they'll be looking at about how all of those things might have interacted together to bring this bridge down in a catastrophic fashion.


WHITFIELD: All right. Our thanks to Tom Foreman there. Law enforcement analyst Mike Brooks is with me now. He not only knows law enforcement and rescue efforts, that's something we'll talk about but you also know bridges and you know Minneapolis. So when you listen to Tom Foreman's report and you talk about the things that inspectors or investigators will look at.


WHITFIELD: Fatigue of the structure, the temperature disparities, etc. Well, I guess what sounds strange about that is we know Minneapolis has extreme winters.


WHITFIELD: Bridges aren't new. So why would that be a potential problem in a structure like this, in this kind of span, when we know they build to withstand that kind of temperature disparity?

BROOKS: And one of the things they do, too, there, they use a different kind of asphalt and concrete, something that withstand it. They do a lot of testing. You go along the roads in Minneapolis or Minnesota and you see different parts of the road where they're testing all different kinds of road surfaces to see how they will hold up under the different stressors of the winter, of the summers there.

Because everyone says, oh, it never gets - it's a dry cold. I tell you, it is a real, it is bitter cold and in the summertime it gets extremely hot there. We just had temperature ...

WHITFIELD: And all it takes is a little moisture in a crack.

BROOKS: It does.

WHITFIELD: We all know what happens when it freezes up and expands.

BROOKS: Exactly. And we heard from Tom's report and I could tell you form living there, the temperature extremes, 20 to 30 degree shifts at any one time in the temperatures there. And that plays - that wreaks havoc on road surfaces as well as on the structural integrity of the bridge ...

WHITFIELD: But the bridge folks there know that.

BROOKS: Absolutely.

WHITFIELD: So they know all of these potential conditions. So that means they're probably inspecting a lot more frequently. They are doing repair work a lot more frequently in a place like that than in other regions of the country?

BROOKS: You would think so. It's areas like this that have such weather extremes and then you also look on the West Coast around Oakland that are susceptible to earthquakes. The same kind of things that structural engineers are looking at all the time but in this particular area the temperature extremes and the temperature swings are what they look at.

Now metallurgists, what are the things when they get there, as part of the NTSB investigations, there are different teams that are involved in this investigation the NTSB brings to bear on an incident like this.

When they come on scene, the metallurgists, they're going to take a look at all of the structure, OK, they're going to say basically where the structural collapse started and how it progressed.

WHITFIELD: And it's interesting to hear from Tom's report there the ripple effect that eyewitnesses say they saw. Section at a time collapsing like a domino.

BROOKS: And it sounds almost like an earthquake. The first time I saw the images tonight after I got notified about this, I looked at it, I go, what happened? Was there an earthquake in Minnesota? You never - we had a minor one ...

WHITFIELD: That's your initial ...

BROOKS: Yeah, it's your initial response.

WHITFIELD: Especially when you hear witnesses say there was a rumble that proceeded that collapse.

BROOKS: Absolutely. Absolutely. So the structural collapse had to start somewhere and that's what the metallurgists and the investigators are going to try to find out exactly. What happened, where it happened and how long did it take to do this and how in fact it did happen.

It's just like when you have an airplane crash and you look at everything, the metallurgists come in and say, OK, well, was it a bomb, was it mechanical.

In this particular case they're going to take a look at, they're going to try to kind of find the point of origin, if you will, of this structural collapse.

WHITFIELD: Well, when - given your expertise and so many different sort of emergency responses that you've been a part of, when you talk about an airplane crash or a tragedy involving a plane, you try to piece that plane back together.

BROOKS: Right.

WHITFIELD: They can't approach this kind of investigation like this, can they? Even when it comes down to trying to figure where were the structural weaknesses. They can't put this bridge back together once they've cleared the scene.

BROOKS: No, but what they can do, they can go in with technology now the way it is, they can take the bridge and kind of, OK, from all the witness statements, from what people heard, what people saw, is try to reconstruct, if you will, exactly what happened earlier this evening. To find out exactly where it started and how it all went, how it all fell together, if you will. And how it all collapsed.

And they'll be able to do this through technology and through computer imaging. With all the witness statements - it's going to take a while, so that's something you're not going to be able to do overnight, but it's something you're going to be able to do, is say, OK, well, from what we see from the soil, they're going to take soil samples, they're going to do everything, Fred, and they're going to be able to try and reconstruct exactly what happened and be able to put this into some kind of computer image.

And I know that structural engineers are good at doing this and that's one of the things you are going to do initially.

WHITFIELD: Well, let me ask you something else that you know a lot about. The rescue efforts.


WHITFIELD: We talked to the communications director from Minneapolis a bit earlier who said the Fire Department is leading the recovery efforts and that's what it has to be called right now. They have ceased it for the evening because it is just too dangerous right now.

So how do they go about resuming their recovery efforts in the morning with the assistance of cranes that will be coming in, even maybe barges?

BROOKS: You know, that's one of the things you're going to have to get. They're going to have to get some kind of barge because with the structure that's in the middle of that river, you're not going to be able to reach the pieces of concrete, the cars from either end of, the north or south, either end of that span from the land. You're not going to be able to do that.

So they're going to have to get some kind of barge in there, even if they have to build a barge in place there. Or from shore. And that's a possibility, too. But they're going to be working with the Army Corps of Engineers who are good at doing these kinds of things and good at building structures that can support large construction equipment to try to get the slabs of concrete, try to get these cars out of the river where they are. And the other thing, though, is they're going to - the main concern is going to be safety of the rescuers.


BROOKS: And then tomorrow when the dive operation continue, they're going to get divers in the water. They'll be in there in dry suits because they're going to be submerged in the water for quite some time and it's not going to be something that's just going to be done overnight.

WHITFIELD: This is a painstaking, tedious task.

BROOKS: Absolutely.

WHITFIELD: And it's taking a long time and you know the fatigue has already set in for a number of the rescue workers and that kind of feeling of hopelessness, too, wishing that they could do a little bit more.

BROOKS: Exactly.

WHITFIELD: We're going to be talking to a member of the American Red Cross, talk about their frustrations as well and what they're able to do to assist all of those on the ground who are trying to get to the bottom of what happened, why it happened and try to offer some aid to those who need it the most right now.

We'll be right back with much more of our coverage.


WHITFIELD: Welcome back to our round the clock coverage. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Seven hours after concrete and steel on the 35 W simply collapsed, we're hearing from city officials now that seven people are confirmed dead, 62 people injured and it is believed that 50 vehicles may have plunged into the Mississippi River. Rescue and recovery efforts will resume at daybreak. Among the first responders, the American Red Cross.

Amanda Mark is a spokesperson for the Twin Cities office. She joins us on the phone right now. Ms. Mark, give me an idea of what the greatest needs are and how the American Red Cross is able to help.

AMANDA MARK, AMERICAN RED CROSS - TWIN CITIES (on phone): Really, right now we're looking at how we can help in the moment to moment so we're looking at food and water for the rescue personnel, we're looking at mental support for the victims of this accident and we're really looking to see what we can do to help people immediately. And we're going to continue to assess those needs as the day goes on and really look at mental support and the emotional support as well.

WHITFIELD: And let's talk a little bit more about that mental support that you've already helped administer to a number of the people who not just witnessed but were victims of, who were part of this tragedy there. What sort of needs do they have? What have you been able to say to these people? How do you comfort them?

MARK: A lot of times when we're talking about a tragedy like this, people really need just someone to talk to, maybe a shoulder, and that's really what the Red Cross is providing right now. Immediately after the tragedy there were 30 schoolchildren that needed a place to go and they actually went to the Red Cross chapter. A lot of thee children didn't have serious injures but they really needed a hug, they needed support and the Red Cross is really there for that and that's really what we'll look to do in the days to come.

We'll make sure we also have trained professionals who really know how to work through the grieving process and the healing process of these individuals as well.

WHITFIELD: And you mentioned that school bus. We have heard and we know that at least 60 children were on that school bus. All of them survived. Ten, however, were hospitalized. We're talking about school kids who immediately after something like this, they want to be with their mom and their dad and as you mentioned, you all helped comfort them while you were trying to help them through those moments before they could be reunited with their family members. So what did you actually say to them?

MARK: Well, and that time it's really the most sensitive and it's a time to say what happened, let us know you are OK now and really let them talk it through and work it through. Even for children that weren't there at that moment, it's really important to give them an opportunity and a chance to kind of talk about what they're feeling, let them know it's OK to feel that way and make sure that they know that they always have someone they can come back to and talk it through.

So really in the after moments that's what the Red Cross did and that's what we encourage all parents to do in the days to come.

WHITFIELD: Even though the recovery efforts have been temporarily suspended for the evening. This is a long evening and it's going to be a long day tomorrow. What kind of support are you, the American Red Cross getting perhaps from your other chapters?

MARK: You know, actually it's a wonderful situation in the sense that people all around Minnesota are really rushing to the area to provide assistance with some where we're feeding, really looking after the needs of the first responders that are going to be there looking again at that mental help, emotional support and they're really going to be filling the role to make sure that there is no break in service and that people have all of their immediate, basic needs really cared for in this situation.

WHITFIELD: Here it is after 2:00 a.m. East Coast just after 11:00 p.m. West Coast. A lot of folks are seeing some of these images for the first time, hearing about this tragedy in Minneapolis and wondering what they can do to help.

So what's your recommendation? How can they if not assist the American Red Cross then perhaps assist anyone else there in this time of need?

MARK: Sure. And the Red Cross is really focused on how we can help people right now. We recognize that in this type of a situation people really have a strong desire to help which is wonderful and we appreciate that.

The Twin Cities chapter Web site can be visited which is You know, in this type of situation it's always extremely crucial that the Red Cross and the American public in general has well-funded blood banks so people are always encouraged to give blood. That is really what is used in these emergency situations when there is life threatening injuries.

And people can visit for that as well.

WHITFIELD: All right. Amanda Mark with the Red Cross there out of the Twin Cities. Thank you so much and best of luck to you in your continued efforts to try to assist those in need there.

MARK: All right. Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Well, it is a remarkable sight. Looking at these pictures which are unforgettable. Imagine those who witnessed it firsthand. Earlier on AC 360, we talked to Will Farley who was an eyewitness.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Want to go to the phone with Will Farley. He actually saw the bridge collapse. He was driving on the Cedar Avenue Bridge, which is the older stone structure you have been seeing in the background in a lot of these pictures.

Will, what time were you on the scene? What did you see?

WILL FARLEY, EYEWITNESS: I was just leaving my girlfriend's house at, like, 6:00. We were driving into the Dinkytown area, which is a college community campus area, at which point, when we're driving, we saw a giant cloud of smoke and dust and debris.

And, immediately, we thought it was a fire. But at which point we started driving over 35-2, we realized, the bridge has collapsed. At that point, my girlfriend and myself drove down on an off-road to the Mississippi River and just watched in horror as construction workers sat there puzzled, and onlooker-bys and -- onlookers, excuse me -- were -- were scared to death.

COOPER: So, you were actually on the bridge and got off on an off-ramp before getting to the point that it had collapsed? Is that correct?

FARLEY: We were driving over the bridge.


FARLEY: It -- Dinkytown is 4th Street University. It kind of crosses over the 35 area, where there is massive construction.

It's just -- it was just chaotic. It has been for the last couple weeks.

COOPER: You know...

FARLEY: And my girlfriend told me, she's, like, if this -- if she should would have known the road was open, she would have taken that bridge home, and she would have been involved in it as well. So...

COOPER: We have heard so many different reports. One person said the bridge started to buckle. It went up. It came down. Another person talked about an eerie silence that seemed to go on for some 10 minutes after the collapse before they started to hear silence.

What did you witness in those first moments after you pulled off the off-ramp?

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

My girlfriend didn't want to go. I walked under the bridge and, at which point, the bridge collapsed on top of a bunch of train cars. And people were trying to wedge their way between the train cars to get out and -- get out and try to save people in the river. So, I mean, it was -- it was chaos.

COOPER: Did -- could you -- could you see the river from where you were? And if so, what did you see in the river?

FARLEY: I wasn't able to see the river. I refused to crawl between the train cars, because, at that point, I wasn't sure if the bridge was stable or not.

But it looks like a lot of passerby-ers were attempting to take pictures with their camera phones. And it sounds like there was couple looker-by-ers that were also trying to save lives, too. So, it was chaos down there.

COOPER: How long did you stay on the scene for?

FARLEY: Probably -- probably around 15 minutes, at which point we couldn't stay there any longer. It was just -- it was too emotional, a lot of people screaming from apartments, just could not -- couldn't believe what was happening.

I mean, this is one of the major roads in Minnesota coming into the Twin Cities. And, during rush hour, I -- I can't even imagine what it would be like to be on that bridge.

COOPER: So, you actually -- you saw smoke before you actually knew what was going on?

FARLEY: We saw a giant dust cloud, and, at which point, we realized it wasn't a fire.

And, I mean, we knew there was a lot of construction going on around there. But, when you see it -- when you start driving over it and you see the bridge and a middle part of the bridge is missing, you can only assume -- assume the worst.

And, I mean, I don't know if it's good or bad that the Mississippi was there. But it's scary stuff. And I -- children were on buses. And, I mean, it was -- it was terrible.


WHITFIELD: Extraordinary accounts and extraordinary images we continue to receive from people who were there witnessing a tragedy in Minneapolis, with this concrete and steel simply collapsing, sending at least 50 vehicles plunging into the Mississippi River.

These latest images are coming in from a University of Minnesota student. Heather Hauer. Thanks so much for these images that you've been able to provide us. She took these pictures from the 10th Avenue Bridge just 15 minutes after the collapse. You can see there with the immediacy of what has just taken place with those vehicles, people who were streaming, trying to figure out what and how could this have happened.

She lives just two blocks away from this 35 W so she sees the traffic, the kind of commute that takes place on this span on a regular basis. We have been reporting all evening long that this is a bridge that has seen a number of inspections over the years. This is a bridge that was built back in 1967 and because of the weather there, the harsh winters there in the winter it regularly gets inspections and was just now undergoing some resurfacing work which is very typical there in the summertime.

Some concrete repair as well as joint repair was taking place. Investigators are on the ground now trying to discern whether any lapses in inspections or perhaps any missed opportunity in repair will in any way attribute to this tragedy that has unfolded.

City officials are confirming that seven people have died as a result of this tragedy. Sixty-two people are being hospitalized and it is believed that 50 vehicles may have plunged into the Mississippi River and when the recovery efforts resume, all being led by the Fire Department tomorrow morning, there is hope, all fingers are crossed, that perhaps they will be able to find some survivors. We're going to take a short break as we continue our coverage of this tragedy in Minnesota.


WHITFIELD: It is 2:30 on the East Coast, 1:30 Central Time. 11:30 p.m. on the West Coast. Seven and a half hours after steel and concrete simply gives way on the 35 W Bridge, sending dozens of vehicles plunging into the Mississippi River, a number of heroic rescue efforts went underway, within the past few hours this evening. However, recovery efforts have been suspended throughout the evening because of darkness.

Our affiliate KARE has been updating us and its viewers in the Minneapolis area throughout the evening. Here is their latest report.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think they're looking for answers at this point. Where we're standing is probably not how they're going to find out about how their children and a number of them may not even speaking English, some of the parents here who are on the scene and so they are probably confused or trying to figure out as much as they can.

Where they are standing right now they are not probably going to find out much about the condition of the children.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're not being allowed in closer to the scene, Joe? Is that what you're saying?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At this point I'm not sure if they're allowed to or if that's going to help at this point. My guess is their kids are probably going to be taken to the hospital at this point if that was necessary.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you seeing many people still being transported past you in emergency vehicles or by emergency personnel or is that not happening from where you are standing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not from where I am standing. And it is the Weight House, it looks like W-E-I-G-H-T House. Which was about 60 kids, they were on the bus, on the swim team at the time. Again, this is just from one parent who was at the scene and they are trying to find more about their kids at this time but they are probably just as starved for information as we are at this time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have any idea of the age of these children?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hold on, let me check. How old were the kids.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eleven, so we're talking 10, 11, nine years old is what many of the kids were but we can't say for sure whether all the kids were that age.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we know they're just kind of arriving on the scene while you're talking to us. I'm just wondering if any of them have been able to make cell phone contact with any of the kids. Any indication of that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not at this point. None that we have talked with have been able to keep in mind that these are nine, 10, 11 year old kids. Chances are those kids don't have cell phones. So cell phones are not going to be a way that they can reach these kids and even if those kids have cell phones, chances are they are still on the bus, they don't have them with them still.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So that's what these parents are assuming, that these kids are on the bus and haven't been transported anywhere yet. Does there appear to be - we know that the state patrol is setting up a command unit in the area. We know that the Red Cross is setting up a spot there to help with the rescue workers and to help take care of some of the children who might have been in a situation where they are on a bus and didn't have a parent nearby.

Is there any indication around you of where these command centers are being set up so when people look for loved ones they have a place to go?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not where I am but we haven't been directed to those areas yet because they're trying to keep us away at this point as opposed to letting us closer.

There are probably some command centers. Whether they set up command centers for loved ones yet, we don't know at this point and obviously a lot of these parents don't know because they're standing here. I see one, presumably a father or a man who is on the phone at this time, trying to clearly reach someone. Parents with concerned look on their faces, with their kids but they just don't know a lot of information that this point and no one is standing where we are is probably going to be able to guide them in the right direction.


WHITFIELD: That was a report from our affiliate KARE earlier in the evening. You see there it is daylight but of course now, 1:30 a.m. Central Time, it is very dark, and that is why the recovery efforts have been suspended until daybreak where they believe the Fire Department-led efforts will get underway. Many of them wearing both wet and dry suits because the water temperature will be such that they will be in the water quite a bit of time as they try to get to any potential survivors in what is believed to be about 50 vehicles still in the depths of the Mississippi River there as a result of the concrete and steel collapsing there at the 35 W Bridge there in the heart of Minneapolis, Minnesota. More of our coverage when we come right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: An unimaginable tragedy usually played out in most commuters' nightmares. Hoping that the bridge that they're on just simply doesn't collapse. Well, tragically, something like that indeed happened in Minneapolis earlier today at the height of rush hour. The 35 W, an eight lane span, 150 meter span just simply gave way. That concrete and steel gave way right into the Mississippi River, sending a number of vehicles plunging to those depths.

Heroic efforts were underway. Passers-by, folks who happened to be walking by in the area, jumped into action and able to rescue a number of people. There was a school bus of about 60 kids. Fortunately, none of them were injured but many of them were quite shaken up. A few of them were attended to right away by the American Red Cross and right now city officials are confirming seven people tragically people died from this. The fear is the death toll may get higher because 50 vehicles are believed to be right there in the depths of the Mississippi River.

Sixty-two people have been injured and are being treated at area hospitals.

Law enforcement analyst Mike Brooks really has seen it all and he is with us now to help analyze just how investigators may now approach this tragedy here. We're asking you because you've been involved in so many things, from rescue efforts to investigations of airplane crashes as well as traffic tragedies. Something on this scale and you also know the Minneapolis area.

So let's really talk about what these recovery efforts crews are going to be up against come daybreak when they get into their wet suits, dry suits, they descend into this water to try to find hopefully maybe any survivors that might be in an air pocket or something?

BROOKS: Well, you know, on the surface, Fred, there's a possibility - we talked about this before. There is always a possibility of these void spaces when you have pancaking like this and collapse like this, there's always a possibility there could be some void space that maybe one of these vehicles is underneath.

And they're going to bring dogs in. They searched earlier tonight, before nightfall, they did what they could, they searched everything that they could before nightfall came with no - they didn't find anybody. But they're going to go back tomorrow, they're going to bring dogs in as part of the surface recovery effort, if you will, to try to find if there is maybe anybody within these void spaces.

WHITFIELD: But they are indeed calling it a recovery effort.

BROOKS: They are.

WHITFIELD: Which tells you they're into the mode of we're not focusing on rescue but there's always hope that maybe they're going to come across someone who survived something like this. BROOKS: The Minneapolis Fire Department, extremely competent at what they do. They've got a confined space rescue group, technical rescue group there. There's always a chance. And as a former rescuer myself, you always hold out hope, you always hold out hope, that little bit of hope that maybe you'll find someone alive.

But now when you get into this recovery effort, it kind of says, we'll we're not expecting to find anyone else alive, but there's always that possibility.

Now in the river, a lot of hazards. When the divers, when daybreak comes tomorrow and the divers finally get back in the river, tonight they're putting together a strategic plan on exactly how they're going to approach this, but once they get back in the river, a lot of obstacles, a lot of hazards.

WHITFIELD: And we're looking at that in some of this video right here.

BROOKS: Absolutely. We are.

WHITFIELD: Twisted metal. Steel pieces protruding from the water.

BROOKS: We saw that one rescuer, the female rescuer with just some kind of personal flotation with a rope around her.

WHITFIELD: Like a safety belt.

BROOKS: And she's in the water, and keep in mind, you've got all these vehicles in the water. You've got oil, you've got gasoline, you've got other biohazards in that water that they have to deal with and you've also got the water temperatures that fluctuate - it's summertime there, the water is still a little bit cool ...

WHITFIELD: Air temperature is about the 74 degree range.

BROOKS: Right.

WHITFIELD: But that means the water temperature is probably a good 20 degrees maybe cooler?

BROOKS: It could be 10, maybe 15, yeah, it could be, and depending on the time of day and the heat and the sun warms the water.

But when you get in there, you - depending on what kind of suit you have, a dry suit, a lot of recoveries like this you're going to have dry teams will have on a dry suit. You're going to have to have communications between the divers in the water and the people onshore.

I was involved in the dive recovery operation turning TWA 800 up on the shore of Long Island and it was the same kind of thing I think you'll be encountering here. You're going to have also the twisted metal. A lot of danger, a lot of things in the water that can harm the rescuers and you want to make sure that they're safe.

And the other thing about getting tangled, getting caught up and tangled ...

WHITFIELD: And then there's fatigue.

BROOKS: And fatigue. You've got things underneath the water that they can get tangled in and you've also got fatigue and that's why you have to make sure that you have a large number of divers there to spell the other ones.

Because one of these things, as a rescuer, OK, you know, five more minutes, five more minutes, I think I can - look it's a recovery effort. There is no need to put yourself in harm's way. You're there to do a job. Let other people help you too.

That's why they need to make sure they have a large number of divers to spell the other divers as they get fatigued, come out, go to rehab, take a rest and let somebody else get in the water and get wet. And then kind of rotate people through. But it's going to take a large number and it could go on for more than one day, that's for sure.

WHITFIELD: And all of this has to take place in layers with respect to the investigators who are there, trying to get some kind of preliminary assessment because they don't want a whole lot of time to pass on that either, right? I mean, they want to get in there as soon as they can while the debris is in place and fresh because a lot of that debris is going to have to be moved in order to help piece together what happened here.

BROOKS: Exactly.

And as they go along and it's part of the investigation, they're going to be photographing everything before they move something so they want to make sure that they get in there and do that and also any witness statements and tomorrow, I just want to say to anyone listening tonight, if you were there and you saw exactly what happened, you heard anything and you haven't talked to any police officers or investigators that were there on the scene, you just went home, go back tomorrow, let someone know what you saw. It could be crucial to the investigation.

Even you think, oh, what I saw, what I heard ...

WHITFIELD: You may not think it's much.

BROOKS: Absolutely. Absolutely. But go back and let them know because it could be crucial to drawing a conclusion and finding out exactly when, where, how, it's going to be the who, what, when, where, why and how of what happened on this bridge.

WHITFIELD: And maybe even what preceded it, too. I mean, we got images from a young lady who lives only two blocks away from that bridge which means she and a lot of other folks are looking at that bridge all the time.

BROOKS: Right.

WHITFIELD: Whether it's noticing repair crews that are on one section of the bridge versus another or anything.

BROOKS: Right. And the other thing I was just thinking about was going to play a crucial role here is the Minn DOT cameras. I know they have cameras, the Minnesota Department of Transportation has cameras that probably caught this actually happening because they have - I know when they get traffic reports in the morning, they say here is traffic across the 35 W Bridge and you can see how traffic is flowing.

So hopefully they were able to capture exactly what happened on those Minn DOT cameras and that will also lend a lot of information on exactly what happened.

WHITFIELD: Now, you know Minneapolis. You know this span. You traveled it before. Built in 1967. We talked to officials throughout the evening who have revealed it gets regular inspections, the weather, the extreme winter temperatures is one reason why they were in the middle of resurfacing. There was some repair work taking place here. How traveled, how well-traveled is this bridge. How dependent is the Twin Cities on it?

BROOKS: Minneapolis and St. Paul, this is one of the major arteries and they have now just cut off one of the major arteries to and from downtown Minneapolis from the suburbs, from Apple Valley, from Egan, from Burnsville, Lakeville, all of those cities, it's traveled all the time and people coming in from all over, Edina, Eden Prairie. They all merge from Route 62 into 35 W and it takes you right downtown and this is one of the major arteries going across the Mississippi River and we've heard about the other bridge next to it, the Cedar Avenue Bridge, that, Cedar Avenue, runs from down where I used to live, Apple Valley, all the way into downtown Minneapolis around the University of Minnesota and this is right there by University of Minnesota at the University Avenue exit.

We look at the bridge here, that is a major, major artery and I was hearing earlier tonight when I was on the way in that they are talking about now that this could remain closed for almost two years. Two years, that's a long time to cut ...

WHITFIELD: Clearly, there are a lot of bridges, there are a lot of options, but ...

BROOKS: I can tell you, traffics bad enough getting in and out of downtown Minneapolis, especially if there's something going on at the Metrodome, got football season coming up, the Minnesota Vikings, it's going to be a nightmare getting in and out and just commuters every day going back and forth from downtown Minneapolis, with the heart of the city and the mall downtown and everything else. It's going to be a nightmare scenario.

WHITFIELD: All right. Mike Brooks, thank you so much.

BROOKS: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: We're going to continue our coverage here on this tragedy in Minneapolis, the collapse of the 35 W Bridge, the latest numbers, seven people dead, 62 injured. More when we come right back.


WHITFIELD: It happened in the middle of rush hour, it happened in broad daylight. Concrete and steel simply collapsing, sending dozens vehicles plunging into the Mississippi River and also sending a number of people right into help to try to rescue so many folks.

Among those who eyewitnessed this tragedy in Minneapolis today, I-Reporter Jay Austin who lives only about five blocks away from the 35 W Bridge. He walked down, took a few pictures, and he is on the phone with us now to give us an idea of what you witnessed today. This is surreal, isn't it, Jay?

All right. Steve Dworak is also on the line with us. He provided some pictures to us earlier as well. Steve, give me an idea of what you eyewitnessed. You live or you just happened to be in the area?

STEVE DWORAK, EYEWITNESS (on phone): No, I live about four blocks away and I had saw it on breaking news and as soon as I saw it I jumped on my bike with my camera and headed right down there and what I saw was like nothing I had ever saw in my entire life.

WHITFIELD: It is surreal, as I described a moment ago, I mean, this is something that people only think about in their nightmares as a commuter. Always wondering, is this bridge OK and here a bridge that is heavily traveled there in that city, one that so many folks rely on, would simply collapse like this. Had you noticed that there had been repair work or any kind of unusual repairs being done on this bridge?

DWORAK: Yes, I have. The last few months, every - I'm a University of Minnesota student and every student takes this bridge to go in downtown Minneapolis, to go the bars or go to a sporting game or to go to the suburbs where people live and you take it here and like I said, the last few months it's been one lane and it's very chaotic even in non-rush hour hours it's very chaotic and try to stay away from it because you're just going to get delayed.

And I never would have ever thought, though, something like this tragedy would ever occur. I mean, this is terrible.

WHITFIELD: It is terrible, to say the very least. Now this is video that you captured from your cell phone?

DWORAK: No, it's a digital camera which is also a digital video camera as well.

WHITFIELD: OK. And how is it that you just happened upon this moment? What were you doing when all of this happened?

DWORAK: Well, I was actually in my apartment and was flipping through channels and I saw breaking news on local television and I'm about four blocks away. I grabbed my camera and I took my bike and I got down there in about five minutes and I actually - this is from the top view right when I got there and police had crowd control and I actually went down below and there are pictures I submitted to CNN earlier that were from about 50 yards from the scene.

WHITFIELD: What were people saying in the area?

DWORAK: It was total disbelief. I mean, the views on their face. It was just complete shock. No one would ever - no one ever thought - when I came down here I didn't think anything like this would happen. I thought it would be minor but this was completely major. I'd never seen - ever. This is like something (ph) on TV. I mean. This is - as you can see from this video, it's straight up, it's like a launchpad.

WHITFIELD: Yeah. It is a remarkable site to see this kind of collapse and to see it just kind of jutting straight up.

DWORAK: And down below, though, I saw them pulling individuals from the water and performing CPR and one of them they did CPR for about 15 minutes and then they took the individual away in a body bag and then another individual dived in the water because his daughter got lost.

WHITFIELD: Oh my goodness.

DWORAK: And it was just - it was very sad to see and it was just something that you would never, ever think that you would have to go through.

WHITFIELD: It's a horrible thing to witness. So tell me about how you're able to process all of this. You're an eyewitness to the aftermath of all this taking place. It is consuming you throughout the evening clearly. How are you able to process all that has happened?

DWORAK: It is very, very hard. I - something right now that I'm going through these interviews right now and I still don't believe what just happened. I mean, it's surreal. To think I'm three blocks away from a catastrophe that's going to be a part of history and the worst part of it is that right now seven people are deceased and more and more people are injured and to know that there's people right now who are underwater right now and they have to call off the dive search. I mean, that's just terrible.

I mean, there's no words that I can explain what people around the Minnesota community are going through right now.

WHITFIELD: Yeah. It is an absolutely horrific thing that so many people are going through and particularly family members of folks who are directly impacted by this. What are you hearing locally about how assistance is being offered to family members who are still awaiting word or family members who have learned of their loved ones being victimized here?

DWORAK: Well, I know a lot of them - they did (inaudible) thing at the Holiday Inn and a lot of them I think have not heard word of how their loved ones are doing which is a little - it's scary to even see. I was actually in contact with my father who had worked in St. Paul and he was coming back and I didn't know if he was in the middle of the wreck and I don't know if he was hurt but people on their cell phones, and everyone is on their cell phones and you can't get through on your cell phone, everyone is on.

So I didn't get informed if my father had made it across or if he was still, if he was on the bridge or - and I'm sure like everyone there, they're heartbroken.

WHITFIELD: And that's going to be difficult. That's going to be quite a difficult obstacle for rescue and recovery efforts I imagine, tomorrow as well.

Steve Dworak, thank you so much for you time. Your eyewitness account and the images that you've helped provide to bring home a very real, a very tragic, horrible set of circumstances that has taken place there in Minneapolis.

DWORAK: Let me just add one more thing?