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Minnesota Bridge Collapse; Rescue Efforts Continue

Aired August 2, 2007 - 04:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: A structural team has been on the scene for several hours now to assess the damage.
Randi Kaye now brings us an update on what has been a very tough, arduous search.


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 Saint Paul just broke apart, sending cars plunging into the water; others teetering on the edge, panicked drivers trapped inside.

JOE COSTELLO, EYEWITNESS: I saw a bunch of smoke, light-colored smoke, shoot up straight into the air from the south end first, actually. And then it rippled to the north end. So the south end went down first, followed by the center section, and then rippled to the north end. A very strange noise. As you can imagine, a lot of wind 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: It just completely gave way, the whole bridge, from one side of the Mississippi to the other, just completely gave away. 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 the school bus was right next to me. And me and a couple of other guys went over and started lifting the kids off the bridge. They were yelling, screaming, bleeding. I think there was some broken bones.

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

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I fell probably about 30, 40 feet, landed on the shore of the Mississippi. And I saw a lot of people like on the way down. I thought I was dead. I literally thought I was dead.

My truck was completely face down. 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 -- it was folded in half, and I -- I can't believe I'm alive. There's a reason.

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 like many bridges across the country, endured stresses all year round.

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 will tend 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 actually 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 all 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 abundance of 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: That was Tom Foreman.

Among those who sprung into action immediately, common citizens, emergency response teams, and, of course, the American Red Cross. They were on the site at the scene of the accident immediately after it happened and offered aid and counseling to the 60 kids in particular who were on a school bus, as well as to other survivors and family members.

Perhaps you want to help out. You can by contacting the Twin Cities chapter of the American Red Cross at

And joining me now, Mike Brooks, law enforcement analyst.

You and I were talking earlier how -- how agonizing this is for a number of family members who are wondering about their loved ones because someone did not come home this evening.

We understand that there are about 20 families that have descended upon...


WHITFIELD: ...a hotel there near the location because that has kind of become the central location for loved ones to find out some information about potential victims.

BROOKS: And that's it. You know, the hub being in Metrodome, very, very close to where this happened. And, you know, there's 20 families that don't k.


BROOKS: You know, their loved one went to work, went to school and they didn't come home.


BROOKS: And they -- and you think about how -- this is tragic enough but that school bus with 60 kids -- what could have happened if that had have been just a few feet, you know, one way or the other.

It's just a -- it's just...

WHITFIELD: Yes, there are so many horrible what ifs, right?

BROOKS: It is.

WHITFIELD: You don't even have to go there because we know what a terrible situation this is, that there are a number of cars, about 50 vehicles that have descended into the Mississippi River.

BROOKS: Right.

WHITFIELD: They can't get to them right now.

BROOKS: No, they think at least 50 vehicles. And, you know, of those 20 missing, how many are there?

And, in a way, you know, we've talked about it before, Fred. We always hold out, you know, the glimmer of hope that there could be maybe somebody still alive in one of those void spaces of the collapsing of the bridge.


BROOKS: You know, but they're calling it now -- the fire chief is now calling it a recovery operation.

WHITFIELD: And what are they up against?

BROOKS: They're up against a lot of the things. I mean you talk about tough conditions in the river. You know, you've got the river flow. You've got the gas main, biohazards, everything else in that river. The tank...

WHITFIELD: The twisted steel...

BROOKS: The twisted steel and just the...

WHITFIELD: And the concrete...

BROOKS: And the concrete that's still in there. I mean the planning that has been going on overnight between the governor's office, emergency preparedness people there in Minneapolis, the police, fire, EMS and all other law enforcement agencies. The investigative side of things, you know, because you guys, as the search goes on and as the recovery goes on, there's a parallel investigation that's also going to be going on that's going to be very, very crucial to finding out you know, the who, what, when, were, why and how this actually happened.

And, you know, and, again, I was talking earlier and I was trying to call somebody. You know, it's a little -- it's a little early in the morning -- to find out whether or not they actually were able to glean any information off of those Minnesota Department of Transportation, the MIN-DOT cameras...


BROOKS: ...that are focused on that bridge. But I still haven't been able to find that out.

WHITFIELD: It's a little early.

BROOKS: It's still a little early, yes. And I'm sure they're not going to release that because that is some crucial, crucial information.

WHITFIELD: And still underscoring something you noted earlier. This is also a criminal investigation now, because we're talking about deaths. The city confirming seven people who have died, 62 people injured. A criminal investigation not because it's suspected immediately that something sinister happened.

BROOKS: Right.

WHITFIELD: I mean the company who was doing some repair work said, you know, it's their view, at this point, some structural, you know, failures took place here, aside from any kind of work they were doing, because simply they were doing repair work to the concrete...

BROOKS: Right.

WHITFIELD: ...not because of, you know, the steel beams or structure in that manner.

BROOKS: But when you have the National Transportation Safety Board, Fredericka, when you have them involved in an investigation, they may bring the FBI and other entities to bear, also, just to make sure. Just to make sure there's no criminality involved whatsoever -- or negligence, you know?

And that's the other thing you have to think about.


BROOKS: You know, with the contractors and the Minnesota Department of Transportation. And as we talked about earlier, they're going to go back to the time this bridge was built. They're going to take a look at every one of these reports that was done, all the inspections saying go back and talk to those inspectors if they're still alive to find out exactly, you know, what did you look for? WHITFIELD: Right.

BROOKS: What did you find?

What didn't you find?

WHITFIELD: And they do a lot of inspections, so we understand.

BROOKS: They do.

WHITFIELD: The governor and the mayor are both concurring that the last inspections that they were making public, 2005 and 2006.

BROOKS: Six, right. That's what Governor Pawlenty and Mayor Ryback said, 2005, 2006. And they didn't find anything, you know, unusual then.

But, you know, we are hearing reporting from one of the affiliates there in Minneapolis that there was apparently a 2001 report -- we heard this story on "ANDERSON COOPER 360" -- about some cracks in the structural part of this bridge.

Now, they're going to go back and take a look and say OK...


BROOKS: ...were there any or was it suspected there were?

So that's going to play a key role early on in this investigation, also.

WHITFIELD: This bridge, 1967, many bridges in this country 30, 40 years old.

BROOKS: Right.

WHITFIELD: And depending on who you talk to, they talk about the life span of a bridge being around in that area if -- you know, depending on who you talk to.

I heard a couple of analysts who say, you know, when you talk about 30 and 40 years of a bridge, it's time to start rethinking a new structure entirely -- not just refurbishment, but a new structure entirely.

Is that feasible?

BROOKS: You know what?

It's feasible. You know is -- will it happen?

I don't know.

You go to cities...


And you go to cities like New York, Washington, San Francisco, and you look at the number of bridges in that city -- New York, I was just up in New York a couple of weeks ago. I'll be going up there next -- the week after next.

And you look at some of the bridges, you know, over the East River.


BROOKS: And these cities are just filled with bridges. And they are a lot older...

WHITFIELD: Lots of them.

BROOKS: ...than 1967.

WHITFIELD: Right. Right.

BROOKS: You know, so I'm sure everybody is going to be taking a look -- hmmm, when was the last time -- what did the inspection report on this particular bridge or that particular bridge say when we took a look at it last time?

WHITFIELD: Yes. You'd better believe this is going to precipitate now -- everyone's nervousness to get on a bridge, no matter what city they're living in come rush hour this morning.

BROOKS: Absolutely.

WHITFIELD: And it's also going to precipitate a lot of investigations and thorough -- maybe re-inspections of bridges across America.

BROOKS: I think so. You know, and I'll tell you -- and it's unfortunate that it takes something -- sometimes, something like this to wake people up and they go ooh, well, maybe we'd better take a look.

And, you know, if I'm going across a bridge and I see construction on a bridge right now, I'm going to think twice about it.

But everybody is.


BROOKS: But, you know, but we've got to live our lives and you -- or you put your faith in the inspectors who -- who look at these bridges, you put your faith in them all the time.


BROOKS: and you know what, how often does this happen?

We don't hear about this happening very often.

You know, there was a bridge under construction just the other day in California. The one that fell on a FedEx truck, you know, that was under construction. They had just put up those -- that structure.


BROOKS: You know, we've heard some other -- another bridge, back in a region, you know, in Canada.

But you never hear about this happening to a bridge.

WHITFIELD: And who could forget the bridge in San Francisco?

But that was a result of an earthquake.

BROOKS: Right.

WHITFIELD: And that, people seemed to say, OK, I understand that. But when, just spontaneously, a bridge collapses, like we've seen, you know, what, nine hours ago, it's inexplicable.

BROOKS: Things like this...

WHITFIELD: It's hard for anyone to grasp.

BROOKS: Things like this just don't happen. You know, they just don't happen, Fredericka.


Mike Brooks, thanks so much.

BROOKS: Thank you, Fred.

WHITFIELD: Much more of our coverage right after this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We thought it was an earthquake.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm like, I don't know if it went up here and just shook her out. It happened twice.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I didn't hear it. We thought it was just the normal construction because it's been going on for like over...



(CROSSTALK) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But it was a lot louder than the normal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. And so we looked out the window and we just see like some people running down here. And you see like smoke just starting and like all this dust. And so we went outside and it was just like chaos. Like it just kept getting more and more chaotic like.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I know, because we (INAUDIBLE) on that ramp and all of a sudden you're just like, you see the bridge and like it just -- I know we heard people say like the bridge is collapsing, the bridge has collapsed. And down here like farther, you could like -- before they closed it off, like it was just -- it was just (INAUDIBLE).



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ...back on the other side.





UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was OK, because first we thought we had crashed. But then we felt like...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We felt us going down.

QUESTION: Did you look out the window? What did you -- what were you seeing?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I didn't look out the window. All I saw was like I saw dust everywhere and people were screaming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We saw the bridge collapse, cars in the water, people on the bridge and then people in the -- people and the paramedics helping people, you know, swim out of the -- out of the river.

And we went down and basically, you know, I was there putting them onto the cars. We'd help load them on the stretchers and then carry them to the ambulances.


WHITFIELD: Still so had to believe, as so many people just simply sprung into action when they saw this spans on 35-W, a bridge connecting the Twin Cities there in Minneapolis simply collapsing, sending a number of vehicles down right into the Mississippi River. And now more than about 20 families, we understand, have all descended upon a hotel there in the Minneapolis area, still waiting word about their loved ones, because in many households there, someone did not come home.

We understand that about 50 vehicles may have plunged into the river. Recovery efforts are going to resume at daybreak.

Courtney Johnson is with a American Red Cross there in the Twin Cities.

She joins us again on the phone.

And Miss. Johnson, give me an idea of just how hard this is for so many of these family members who still are awaiting word about their loved ones and how you all are reaching out to them.

COURTNEY JOHNSON, AMERICAN RED CROSS, MINNEAPOLIS: Well, this is an incredibly hard situation. You know, this is Minnesota. We're used to fires. We're used to tornadoes. But, you know, this kind of unexpected, large scale catastrophe, you never really can get totally used to, although at the Red Cross we are prepared for something of this scale.

What we are doing is we have our stress team, which is a group of mental health experts who are available to help and counsel not only the families who are looking for missing relatives, but also the first responders, the volunteers and the people themselves who experience this catastrophe.

WHITFIELD: What do you mean in that respect, that even the first responders need this kind of mental support that you are offering to a lot of victims and family members of victims?

JOHNSON: Well, you know, even though response to this kind of incident is written in their job description, that doesn't mean that they're immune from having a hard time dealing with things so awful as what people have seen today.

So, you know, if they're a police officer, a firefighter, if it's a Red Cross volunteer or if it's someone who was driving on the bridge and the bridge collapsed beneath them, if they're having a hard time dealing with it, the Red Cross has volunteer professionals who are available to discuss and kind of help them through this hard time.

WHITFIELD: What kind of help do you hope to get from, perhaps, some other chapters of the American Red Cross or maybe even the national office?

JOHNSON: Well, at this point, this disaster has gone out to become a national event, which means that already this evening, we're seeing help from our neighboring chapters. We've seen folks from Rochester, from St. Cloud and from overnight, we're going to be seeing some folks from Iowa and probably further out in the scope.

So national has been great at sending us some additional bodies out here when we need it.

WHITFIELD: What -- and what is your greatest concern about, perhaps, the greatest need that you might not need in the immediate future, but perhaps you may need a few days from now or even weeks?

JOHNSON: Well, just because this is going to be such a large scale recovery effort, we are really thinking that the mental health is going to be key, because it might be a while before the recovery aspect of this event is completely, you know, until that book is in -- until that's finished.

So it might be a while before we finish this up. And just the mental health toil on people we are going to be going back there day after day, as well as the families who might be waiting for a while to get news on loved ones is going to be definitely a mental health strain in this area.

WHITFIELD: And where are you on blood drives or the need for blood?

JOHNSON: As far as the need for blood, I believe that we're doing OK. Tomorrow, our blood offices will be open their regular hours, except -- you know, to collect blood, just as we would. But the outpouring from the public has just been phenomenal on this.

WHITFIELD: How can people spring into action? How can they assist you, because there are so many folks from all over the country who are saying I wish there was something I could do?

JOHNSON: Well, as far as being able to assist the Red Cross, the Red Cross always appreciates donations, donations of time, blood or money. You know, it's just as great as if you can volunteer your time and become, you know, a Red Cross volunteer. Get trained in your own local chapter so that you can become a volunteer should something catastrophic happen to your neighbors.

WHITFIELD: Courtney Johnson with the American Red Cross out of the Twin Cities office.

Thank you so much.

So, again, an update now, over nine hours after this tragedy descended upon Minneapolis there, the collapse of the 35-W Bridge. Confirmation from city officials -- seven people dead, 62 injured and it is believed that 50 vehicles are in the Mississippi River. Recovery efforts will begin, again, at daybreak.

We'll be right back.


WHITFIELD: Nine-and-a-half hours now after a very popular, well traveled bridge in the heart of Minneapolis simply collapses right in the middle of rush hour, sending a number of vehicles plummeting to the depths of the Mississippi River. It's a horrible tragedy still unfolding. Still unfolding because recovery crews are still unable to get to a number of those vehicles that are in the Mississippi River. It's just simply too dark, so they suspended the effort overnight.

They will resume at daybreak.

It is something that unfolded right before so many people's eyes, whether they were on the road in traffic or simply whether they were passersby. And apparently there are a number of residences right there with a bird's eye view of everything that took place.

Among them, Casey McGovern is somebody who is joining us right now, who managed to take a lot of pictures, too.

All of what you saw just steps away from your residence, Casey?

CASEY MCGOVERN, MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA: Yes, actually, about 300 yards maybe from where I live.

WHITFIELD: What did you hear, see, feel when all of this was taking place at about 6:00 your time?

MCGOVERN: Well, I was actually just getting home from work. I didn't even know it had happened. And a friend of mine called to see if I was OK.

And I was like what are you talking about?

And I went -- he was like look out your window. And I went outside and I was looking for the bridge and it wasn't there. And I immediately got on my bike and I tried to bike down toward the bridge to, you know, see what was going on. And the police had already gotten there. It was probably 20 minutes after police and the fire department responded very quickly.

And I ended up having -- most of the pictures I took were from the Stone Arch Bridge, which is -- it runs almost parallel to the -- the 35-W Bridge. And then I also went to the north bank of the river there, where you can kind of see an angle of the -- I mean how far the bridge actually dropped. I mean a pretty, a pretty steep drop.

WHITFIELD: Did you feel like this was so hard to envision?

This is a bridge that you see outside of your apartment window all the time. And now to see this kind of mangled mess and these portions missing, you know, did you kind of feel a few moments of just, you know, is this really happening?

Can this be true?


WHITFIELD: Am I dreaming?

MCGOVERN: I mean at first when I looked, I believe that the 10th Avenue Bridge is right behind it. And so I thought the 10th Avenue Bridge was the 35-W Bridge. So I didn't even know it had dropped until I actually got closer and I was like the bridge isn't even there.

And but, yes, I mean it -- this bridge is -- I mean I think they said it was 130,000, 140,000 cars that go across it every day. I mean every person in the metro area, I mean, has crossed that bridge probably, you know, or knows someone who is going to cross the bridge today, yesterday, some time this week. I mean I was on it yesterday and there was construction all over the place and, you know...

WHITFIELD: And so the construction, did that, you know, strike you as peculiar or did you kind of feel like, oh, this happens all the time, no big deal, you just kind of move on?

MCGOVERN: Well, I mean Minnesota -- with harsh winters, I mean road construction really only goes on during, you know, maybe four months, in and around the summer. And it was a very hot today. Today it was about 91 degrees out, very humid.

You know, there could have been any number of factors. I don't even want to guess, you know, what would have gone into it.


MCGOVERN: I mean I'm obviously not an engineer or anything like that. But I mean immediately, you know, what it happened, it looked like, you know, it was like when you see a tornado that hits a farmhouse or something like that -- it's just twisted steel and concrete all over the place.

But, you know, you multiply it by, you know, 100 or whatever, because it's, you know, it's a huge bridge.

WHITFIELD: Right now we're looking at video taken from our affiliates there in the Minneapolis area.

But back to your still photos, there's one particular image from sort of that park view where you see the emergency response crews, you know, at the ready, in position.

What -- how would you describe their demeanor?

How would you describe the sense of urgency as that being sort of a meeting or a place of collection for all this apparatus?

MCGOVERN: Yes, I mean, I think the ambulance, fire and police crews that they were trying to, you know, get to both sides of the river obviously have trouble doing it because, you know, the main bridge was gone. So they had to use the Stone Arch Bridge, which is actually a foot bridge and bike path, basically. And they were driving, you know, it was police cars with people -- with the car doors open with police hanging out of the car, you know, driving down the road with, you know, their loudspeaker on, just telling people to, you know, please step aside, they're trying to get to the scene.

And, you know, I kind of left right after I took pictures because like well, you know, I didn't want to get in anyone's way. And there was a lot of fire crew and ambulances still on the way there.

So I just kind of thought it was good to be out of the way so.

WHITFIELD: And, Casey, I know it's a difficult hour. It's 3:28 your time, Central time, and 4:28 on the East Coast.

But describe for me what your emotions are right now.

Are you feeling sad?

This is a pretty heartbreaking experience, isms, for everyone.

MCGOVERN: It is. It's -- right now it's more disbelief. I think, you know, I -- the cell towers, I think, have gotten a lot of -- they're too busy so a lot of phone calls didn't go through.

I had, you know, eight to 10 messages from people wondering if I was on the bridge or, you know, I had called other people, too, trying to get through.

But I think tomorrow morning at work, I mean, Minneapolis is going to wake up and realize that, you know, the main road that goes into Minneapolis is gone and, you know, people are, for the next few years, are going to have to figure out different ways to get to work.

People are going to find out tomorrow whether or not they knew anyone on the bridge.

I mean there's really hardly any way to know now if, you know, if you knew anyone who was there. I mean you won't -- you won't know until -- until you get to work and if someone doesn't show up or if, you know, you'll find out however.


And, Casey, what about for you?

You mentioned you're going to work tomorrow.

Do you have to cross a bridge? And, if so, what do you think your feelings are going to be like about crossing a bridge after seeing what you saw?

MCGOVERN: Well, I -- I won't -- I live on the downtown side, so I won't have to cross a bridge to go to work. But I -- I crossed the Central Avenue Bridge this evening to go to the other -- to go to the north side. And as I was walking across the bridge just, you know, kind of all of a sudden I thought to myself, you know, if that bridge over there collapsed, I mean, you know, what would I do if this -- if this bridge started falling down right now?

And it's kind of a weird feeling. I mean it's something that, you know, never happens. I mean that's why it's such huge news. But it's all of a sudden, now it's something you'd have to think about. But it's kind of weird.

WHITFIELD: Casey McGovern, thanks so much for sharing your experience and your images.

MCGOVERN: Hey, no problem.

WHITFIELD: Appreciate it.

MCGOVERN: Have a good night.

WHITFIELD: We're talking about the recovery effort that will resume in the morning.

Mike Brooks has been with me throughout the evening really describing the obstacles that these rescue workers will be facing, one of them being that water.

That is, in part, why they had to cease their recovery operations overnight. It's dark. And in that water, at least 50 vehicles, it's believed. You're dealing with water temperatures as well as a lot of protruding and dangerous objects that are in the water that are going to hamper the efforts of the recovery teams there.

But they've got the training to try to deal with any of these obstacles.

Our Bonnie Schneider is in the Weather Center -- Bonnie, give me an idea, one obstacle that often stands in the way of any kind of search, rescue, recovery efforts is weather.

Give me an idea of what the recovery crews can expect tomorrow...

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, ATS METEOROLOGIST: Well, actually, because of...

WHITFIELD: ...or today, I should say.

SCHNEIDER: Right, it is today.

You know, because this happened during the summertime, the water temperature is actually the warmest that we typically would see along the Mississippi River. And you can see it ranges anywhere from 76 degrees on the low side to 84 on the high side.

And you're talking about water that gets very, very cold in the wintertime. So right now it's warm.

The problem is all these numbers are still below the average body temperature, 98.6. So it doesn't take that long for your body to lose the heat.

In fact, it's interesting to note when you're out in the cold and cold air versus cold water, you actually lose your body heat 32 times faster in water than you would just out in the elements. So that's what makes it so dangerous, because it happens so quickly. And it happens in the extremities when you need to kind of get your sorts about you.

So water temperatures right now are warm. The weather in Minneapolis has been interesting over the past few days. Temperatures have been well above normal, into the 90s. We had a weak front come through the area. As you can see direr conditions, some rain off further to the north and west. A little bit of precipitation popping up, but not much. The current temperature is about 70 degrees. It'll be warming up shortly, especially after we get the sun coming out.

But because of this front coming through, conditions will be direr. It's not going to be quite as hot. It'll still be above normal temperature wise. The average temperature is about 82, 83 degrees this time of year.

But due to the front passage, it won't be quite as oppressive.

Here's a look at some of the current numbers around the region and you can see some cooler air is working its way in. So we also -- not only do we have drier and more calm conditions in terms of the weather, but looking ahead, we actually have dry conditions for the rest of the week, with temperatures in the mid-80s. It will be get back into the 90s by Monday.

And in terms of the chance of rain, the best chance, really, is not until Saturday. So at least for today and tomorrow, conditions will be dry. The weather won't hamper the recovery efforts.

The water temperature is as warm as it can be in that part of the Mississippi River. But often the water temperature fluctuates depending on where you are along the river, how much the current is moving the water. Because when the water sits still, sometimes it can lose heat faster.

So it really depends on where they are and exactly what's happening.

But the water temperatures right now, Fredericka, range from 76 on the low side to 84 degrees on the high side.

WHITFIELD: That's great, because this all sounds very favorable for those recovery efforts that will resume at daybreak.

Thanks so much, Bonnie.


WHITFIELD: So just to update you, it's been nine-and-a-half hours now since this tragedy in Minneapolis. A hundred and fifty meter span of a steel and concrete bridge there in the center of the city simply collapsed at the height of rush hour, 6:00 local time there, sending a number of vehicles plunging into the Mississippi River.

And in other cases, this concrete structure just kind of buckled. So a number of other vehicles were simply suspended and a number of motorists getting out of their cars, wondering what's going on here.

A lot of passersby just kind of sprung into action and tried to help out and help rescue a number of people and offer assistance to many injured folks before emergency crews could get on the ground. We're hearing from city officials that seven people died, 62 have been injured. And, again, a I mentioned, the 50 vehicles that are in the Mississippi River.

At daybreak, they will resume what they are calling a recovery effort. Everyone wants to be hopeful that perhaps there will be a rescue effort, as well.

But for now, officials are calling it a recovery effort that will be underway come daybreak.

We'll have much more on our continuing coverage of this tragedy in Minneapolis right after this.


WHITFIELD: New images you're seeing right now, new images that we have been receiving from our affiliate there, as well as many stringers there on the ground in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

You're looking at the immediate aftermath of fire department crews there springing into action immediately, trying to put out fires. There was at least one vehicle that was on fire after this span of bridge, the 35-W, simply collapsed right there over the Mississippi River.

You're looking at images of how these cars just kind of were haphazardly tossed around, even in that one SUV, you have to wonder if that person kind of cut themselves out of that rooftop, because it looked like a (INAUDIBLE) roof or sunroof there was a bit broken, maybe people climbing out.

We are hearing of all kinds of interesting rescue efforts that were underway, people who just happened to be in the area or other folks who were in nearby vehicles who were not injured, tried to assist those who were injured and in trouble and facing immediate danger.

The recovery efforts, being led by the fire department, are to resume at daybreak. It has simply been too dangerous for them to conduct rescue or recovery efforts overnight. Too dark and with these large pieces of concrete and steel -- and you're looking there at the twisted metal -- that same kind of debris above ground, well, that's what's taking place in the water, as well.

We had some images that we have been showing you overnight, which showed a number of the rescue teams in the early stages of the evening, trying to get to these vehicles to check any one of the vehicles that were submerged in the water. But you could see the danger that surrounded them with the protruding pieces of steel and metal and debris.

And it is the concern -- the utmost concern of the fire department leading the recovery efforts that they don't want to imperil their own emergency crews there. So they're going to wait until daybreak and hope that with that visibility -- and you heard Bonnie Schneider a moment ago talk about favorable weather conditions. That's good, with temperatures in the 80s and the water temperature in the 70s, that perhaps that will help in this kind of a recovery effort that will resume in the morning.

It's been a very difficult evening for the folks there in Minneapolis and everyone, quite frankly, witnessing all that has unfolded since rush hour, when, just after 6:00 Central time, this tragedy unfolded.

Among those who saw the aftermath and who have been forever touched by these indelible images, Will Farley, who is an eyewitness who spoke with us on "ANDERSON COOPER 360" earlier.


ANDERSON COOPER, HOST: With us on the scene, we 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-W, 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 had 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 looked 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, I mean 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 I mean it's scary stuff. And I -- children were on buses. And I mean it was -- it was terrible.


WHITFIELD: It was terrible and it still is. Seven people believed to have died from this tragedy; 62 people injured. And the fear is the death toll could go higher.

We'll be right back.



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 is completely split in half. I cannot believe -- I'm so thankful I was wearing my seatbelt. I hit -- that's all I did was hit my steering wheel. My back is really, really hurting because of when we actually hit the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If it would have been any second later, any second before, we would have been in the water or under the -- the pavement, because the pavement thrust another car that was in front of us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm just glad to be alive. I'm glad all the kids are safe and the parents came to come get them and that's -- that's it.


WHITFIELD: And that's a lot. Indelible moments as a result of this bridge collapsing. You're looking at new video that we've just received from (ph), remarkable images of the spance we're talking about of a huge concrete and steel bridge that simply gave way inexplicably with dozens of commuters on it.

You're looking at the new images of the emergency response there. There were -- there was at least one vehicle that caught fire and so you saw that fire engine putting out the flames there.

What's remarkable, too, is all of these accounts from various people about how quickly people tried to offer assistance before those emergency crews were able to get there.

Common citizens who came out and were helping to extract people from their vehicles, trying to offer some assistance to those who were injured.

And remarkably, as you heard the one young man talk about earlier, a school bus with 60 children on board. Ten were injured, but none of them are facing life-threatening injuries and their families eventually were able to come and be reunited with those young people. But, sadly, seven people, according to city officials, have died; 62 people have been injured.

And, sad, too, 50 vehicles blvd to have plunged right into the Mississippi River and when the recovery efforts resume come daybreak, there is hope that maybe there might be some survivors.

Earlier, we heard from a reporter at KFTP for an update.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, a quick update before I go to the commissioner.

One child we just saw moments ago released from the hospital. That was a child who was on the bus and his relatives saying he's OK, so some good news there.

Twenty-eight people, you'll recall, were brought here, mostly adults, but some children, as well. And the Hennepin County commissioner, Peter McLaughlin, came here to thank the staff, basically, right, for the stellar job that they've done in handling this disaster?

PETER MCLAUGHLIN, HENNEPIN COUNTY COMMISSIONER: Absolutely. I wanted to go in and talk to the emergency room staff. And I know what they went through in trying to make sure to clear the decks and make sure that they could respond adequately.

And this is why we have a public hospital in place is to make sure that we can respond when a disaster of this sort takes place. And they did a fabulous job and they really served the people well.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're saying the communications systems that they used have been in place for quite some time, that Minneapolis -- that the Twin Cities is leading the country in terms of communication, to make sure a disaster like this works smoothly.

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, it's communications and planning. You know, practice doesn't necessarily make perfect, but it sure does help. And I think we saw that tonight in terms of the communications. We've invested in communications systems so the police can talk to the fire, can talk to the ambulance drivers and then talk to the hospitals.

We've had the -- we've actually practiced. We do table top exercises, they call them. But we've also done actual drills where we actually do it live on the street. You learn lessons when you do that and those lessons come into play on a night like tonight. And it really has shown, I think.


Now, commissioner, you have not been down to the scene yet, but you've seen the pictures.

Now, this is your district, where it occurred.

So what are your thoughts tonight? MCLAUGHLIN: Well, as a graduate of the University of Minnesota Graduate School, I mean just to have that bridge right there next to the campus go down, it's pretty stunning. And to see the -- the visuals of it are just amazing to see.

But then you see that bus that could have gone into the river with those 60 kids, but it didn't. That's a miracle, as far as I'm concerned.

So I'm praying and hoping for the families and the people who were involved and hoping that they can pull through this positively.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And, of course, plans are already in the works in how to deal with this mess, unfortunately, that's you know, revealed itself tomorrow.

So what is tomorrow -- looking ahead -- what can you tell us about the school for tomorrow?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, tomorrow there's going to be -- they're planning right now for traffic. And if you want to consult the city Web page tomorrow morning early, I'm sure the networks are going to have the -- the TV is going to have some pictures, as well, about suggestions about where to go.

But people are going to need to be patient, because people are going to be fighting their way. This is a huge artery of bringing people into downtown every morning and taking people out. There's no ball game they've canceled the ball game tomorrow, which is a good thing.

But people are going to have to find alternate routes. They're going to need to be patient as they do that and we're going to -- the engineers are going to be doing the best they can to time the lights and move the traffic around as best they can.

But we're going to need to be patient. This is going to take a couple of years at least to replace that bridge.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And lastly, commissioner, anyone that you knew on the bridge?

Have you any relatives involved or friends involved on the bridge?

MCLAUGHLIN: Not that I know of it, and I've checked with my family here and friends, as far as I can so far. But, you know, there hasn't been a list of victims released yet.

But so far no one, thankfully, has been hurt in my family.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You could see cars like underneath like the framing. Like the whole bridge collapsed. There's cars like in the river. There's cars like under the bridges. There's cars like hanging off. There's -- it's ridiculous.


WHITFIELD: It's a horrible sight there in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

These are some of the latest images that we've received, which shows part of this span of a bridge that simply collapsed -- concrete and steel just everywhere.

As you see, these vehicles that have been just tossed around.

It happened at the height of rush hour, 6:00 Central time, and now it's about 10 hours after the fact and still people are trying to piece together how this could have happened and why.

No explanations there.

Federal as well as state transportation investigators are on the ground there. They'll begin their investigation to find out where were the vulnerabilities of this bridge, why did it collapse, a bridge that was currently undergoing some repair work, but considered fairly superficial type of repair work, of concrete repair and joint repair.

And the recovery efforts will be underway as soon as day breaks, because 50 vehicles plunged from that span right into the Mississippi River. The death toll right now, according to city officials, seven people. Sixty-two people injured.

Mike Brooks is a law enforcement analyst.

He's been joining us throughout the evening to give us a sense about the investigation. A few different things taking place here.

We know it's a criminal investigation because you're dealing with deaths here.

BROOKS: Right.

WHITFIELD: We don't know exactly what caused this. But it is believed to be a structural damage at the center of this investigation of what happened, right?

BROOKS: That's what it looks like right now, Fredericka.

But they're still going to -- you know, as their recovery efforts go on, the investigation is also going to go into the who, what, when, where, why and how this tragic collapse happened on this bridge, a relatively new bridge, you know, as bridges go -- built in 1967.

You know, bridges just don't -- just don't collapse.

But, you know, we're also going to hear tomorrow, as the sun comes up, other stories of the unsung heroes who are there today, you know, ordinary people performing extraordinary acts to help their fellowmen. It's just unbelievable some of the stories we've heard already and the stories that we haven't heard of these unsung heroes there in Minneapolis yesterday.

WHITFIELD: Yes, it really is something.

And tragically, there are at least 20 families that are all holed up at a hotel not far from this location of tragedy. And they're awaiting word about their loved ones who haven't come home yet.

BROOKS: No. These are people who went to school, went to work and they didn't come home. And, you know, and our thoughts and our prayers are with them, along with the rescue workers who are going to continue this -- this unbelievable act of recovery.

WHITFIELD: The focus in this recovery effort, it's going to be difficult because there are a lot of obstacles. This debris -- huge pieces of concrete...

BROOKS: Right.

WHITFIELD: ...the twisted steel, the water. All of these that really could hamper the recovery efforts.

BROOKS: Right. Water, twisted steel, concrete in the water, you know, and trying to get the equipment they need, the cranes, those kind of things, to lift the concrete out so they can lift these vehicles out of the water.

It's just going to be a Herculean effort tomorrow. And it's going to be like -- and it could be going on for more than just one or two days. This is going to take some time.

WHITFIELD: Yes. But we're -- we're talking about a few days, indeed, at the very least...

BROOKS: Right.

WHITFIELD: ...just to get to these vehicles, just to try and move some of the debris in order to get to some of the vehicles that may be kind of sandwiched in between stacks of concrete, even.

BROOKS: That's exactly right. And it's -- it's just going to be an unbelievable effort. And -- but they -- but they've got the resilience there and they'll get it done.

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

BROOKS: Thank you, Fredericka.

WHITFIELD: And I'm Fredericka Whitfield.

Thanks so much for being with us throughout our continuing coverage overnight.