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More on Minnesota Bridge Collapse

Aired August 2, 2007 - 17:00   ET


BLITZER: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, breaking news.
Tearful families can only wait for word of their loved ones and pray, as divers search for the missing in the Minnesota bridge collapse.

He felt the crash and then heard the cries of children, as their school bus dangled on the edge of the crumpled roadway. In an instant, a daycare counselor becomes a hero.

And can this happen in your town?

There are more than half a million highway bridges and many of them, as we all know right now, are in extremely bad shape.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


An urgent search for the missing and for clues for the deadly Minneapolis bridge collapse.

Here are the latest developments we're following right now.

Divers are in the Mississippi River, in very difficult conditions, looking for the bodies in the twisted ruins of the Interstate 35-W Bridge. Authorities say as many as 30 people remain missing. The official death toll stands at four. More than 70 people have been treated for injuries. Many remain hospitalized. A handful are still listed in critical condition.

Federal experts will try to reassemble parts of the bridge to try to figure out how it collapsed. Minnesota has launched its own investigation.

And just in to CNN right now, we're told the president of the United States will go out to Minneapolis on Saturday to inspect -- to inspect what's going on.

One of the heroes -- one of the heroes involved in the rescue operation is a diver -- a diver from the Minneapolis Fire Department, Shanna Hanson.

Listen to her story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY KSTP, MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA) CAPT. SHANNA HANSON, MINNESOTA FIRE DEPARTMENT: I was involved in one recovery effort and I was involved with one of the firefighters doing a secondary search on the cars while they were bringing out the last rescue from our side of the river.

They divided the river into the two sides and started out with the command working that way so that they had two distinct operations going on at the same time. I was just on one side, so when I speak, I'm only speaking about the rescue recovery on my side.

For an incident this complex, obviously, they need to start sectoring off and gain some kind of control. One person can't manage two different sides of the river, plus we have the middle of the river, the rail cars.

QUESTION: Were you on the north side or the south side?

QUESTION: When you're going in the water...

QUESTION: The north side or the south side?

HANSON: I was on the north side.

QUESTION: When you're going in the water, clearly, it's dark. It's dangerous.


QUESTION: Tell us about that -- some of your concerns of what's in the water.

HANSON: Honestly, I wasn't thinking about what's in the water, other than what they train you in swift rescue for, where you're concerned about something snagging you and dragging your line underneath. So we always work on a quick connect with that so that if a land mind gets snagged, we could disconnect it.

I was a little concerned about unstable stuff underneath me that I couldn't see. But being that the cars hadn't moved from the time they had gone in to when I was going into them to check them, I -- we were trained to do the job. You just kind of go in and do it. You don't think about it much until afterward.

QUESTION: What is swift water rescue?

HANSON: Swift water rescue, especially in an area like us, with the locks and dams, is extremely dangerous.

I'm not sure if anybody saw ice -- pardon me. Ice water rescue this winter. We had somebody hanging on the edge of ice after they had jumped off a bridge. Two of our guys suited up in the Gumby suits, went over the ice to go get them.

The danger there is that if they should through the ice because it's a river, the current might close that ice over them before they were able to get out. So swift water...


BLITZER: Shanna Hanson.

And that's video of her in this rescue operation, one of the courageous heroes, a firefighter in Minneapolis.

She ran into the water -- and remember, there's a lot of steel and concrete, it's extremely dangerous in there -- trying to save individual lives.

We're going to try to catch up with Shanna Hanson and speak with her here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But there's just one of many, many miraculous stories -- incredible stories of courage, bravery, individuals risking their own lives to go in there to try to save fellow Americans out there right now.

Let's go back out to Brian Todd.

He's on the scene for us in Minneapolis -- Brian, you're there.

You're watching this investigation unfold.

You're watching the recovery efforts unfold. Tell our viewers the latest information, first of all, about the investigation.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, investigators tell us this is one of the most difficult cases they've ever faced. They have to shift through tons of rubble and debris, trying to piece together evidence. They have to do that right next to recovery teams looking for bodies.

But already, investigators say, they've gotten some very important clues.


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

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

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

TODD: A crucial part of the probe -- two reports on the bridge over the past six years which cited structural deficiencies and evidence of fatigue in some areas.

State officials defend their actions regarding those reports.

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

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

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

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

So what do civil engineers think happened?

TED GALAMBOS, STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: The only way that I -- I can see is that there was some kind of major damage across all of the trusses of the bridge.


TODD: One unanswered question in this probe -- did the construction that was takes place when this bridge collapsed have anything to do with it?

I spoke with the head of the construction company there. He said that this workers were only doing surface work on this bridge and that it had nothing to do with what happened yesterday -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd on top of this story.

Stand by, Brian.

We're going to be getting back to you soon.

One thing very clear from the bridge collapse -- things can change in the blink of an eye.

Here's the I-35. Check it out. The I-35 over the Mississippi River before it gave way.

And take a look at this. This is now, after the devastation of the bridge, after it crumbled into the river and onto its banks, taking dozens of cars and the people inside of them with it.

What a horrendous, horrendous collapse.

Authorities estimate 20 to 30 people are missing following the collapse, as divers search the murky waters -- and they're very dangerous, as we just saw -- the dangerous and murky waters of the Mississippi.

Desperate families wait for word of their loved ones.

Let's go back to CNN's Mary Snow.

She's on the scene in Minneapolis for us. Mary, heart-wrenching stories coming out over the past 24 hours.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There really are, Wolf. And some of these families are really clutching to hope that they'll find that their loved ones are still alive. Many of these families, in fact, dozens, say the Red Cross, have streamed into a family center that's been set up, as people just try to find some kind of answers to what happened to their loved ones.


SNOW (voice-over): The last 18-year-old Jessica Engebretsen heard from her mother was a phone call at 5:39 Wednesday night, shortly before the bridge collapsed.

JESSICA ENGEBRETSEN, MOTHER IS MISSING: She just said that she's coming home and that we were going to have a family dinner because my sister was leaving.

And then it was just good-bye and I love you.

SNOW: When news of the disaster broke, Ron Engebretsen, Jessica's father, repeatedly called his wife Sherry's cell phone with no answer.

RON ENGEBRETSEN, WIFE IS MISSING: Right now, we're just hoping and praying that she's in some place -- some place where they are taking care of her or some air pocket.

SNOW: The family says Sherry didn't normally take 35 West but changed her routine.

R. ENGEBRETSEN: Sherry made a decision. Obviously, that decision was that she felt that she could get across the bridge, because at that point you can see going north, where we live here, that you can maybe get a lot quickly or maybe she thought, you know, it's a direct location to our home. And she made that choice and we support that choice. I mean that is something that we will always stand behind her.

SNOW: The family provided photos and spoke to the media in the hope of finding Sherry.

Others looking for loved ones were too distraught to talk. They filed into a makeshift Red Cross center to put names on a list, give out license plate numbers that might be identified.

One is looking for a young pregnant woman, another searching for her ex-husband and one private investigator is looking for several people.

(on camera): How do you go about finding them? TOM GEORGE, HIRED TO SEARCH FOR VICTIMS: Well, I try to use whatever means I can. I just recently received a list of employees' names, so I'd like to provide it to the Red Cross and the local law enforcement to see if they can cross-reference it against their list.


SNOW: And, Wolf, that private investigator we spoke with said that he was hired by a company. He didn't want to identify that one company.

And, you know, in talking to Red Cross officials, they say it's very hard to keep track of just how many people are coming in. If someone is found, they're not taken off the list, so their numbers are very shaky right now.

BLITZER: Mary, you just spoke to the sheriff.

What is he saying about the recovery effort?

SNOW: He's saying that divers are back in the water in the Mississippi River now. But he said that earlier today, because of the strong currents, very difficult conditions, they had to come out of the water. And he said just to give you an example of how painstaking the surface is, that three vehicles were found, but that it took about six hours to locate them.

I asked the sheriff if there had been any bodies recovered to this point and he said not today.

BLITZER: Mary is watching this story for us.

Stand by, Mary.

We're getting back to you, as well.

At its highest point, the bridge stood 64 feet -- 64 feet over the Mississippi River. Its center span collapsed straight into the water. This is what it looked like, if you can see.

What if a vehicle fell from that height?

According to the American Institute of Physics, it would fall for two seconds at a speed of almost 44 miles an hour. The impact would be similar to being in a stationary car and being hit by another car moving at that speed.

Jack Cafferty is joining us once again with The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the bridge in Minneapolis apparently fell down by itself -- a victim of neglect or a structural defect or a combination of both.

This was a heavily traveled route. The highway is eight lanes wide. It's the main north-south thoroughfare through the City of Minneapolis. It was loaded with rush hour traffic when it gave way.

The inconvenience, economic impact and time lost until it's replaced have yet to be determined, but you can bet they will not be insignificant.

Not to minimize what happened in Minneapolis, but consider this.

What if the George Washington Bridge, the Lincoln Tunnel and the Holland Tunnel in New York City were suddenly lost?

Or what if key infrastructure in other major American cities were suddenly lost, the way the World Trade Center was suddenly lost?

Not only are we neglecting to do the necessary maintenance on our infrastructure, it's probably not being protected as well as it could be or should be, either.

Almost six years after 9/11, our borders remain open, our ports remain vulnerable and the possibility that terrorists could inflict much greater damage on our infrastructure than the loss of a single bridge in Minnesota is all too real. A dozen determined suicide bombers could bring any large American city to its knees in an instant.

Here's the question -- are we taking our infrastructure too much for granted?

E-mail your thoughts to or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The answer, Jack, is yes, as I think you and I both agree.

Let's see if our viewers think, as well.

Thank you.

On a crowded school bus at the moment the bridge collapsed.


JEREMY HERNANDEZ, SCHOOL BUS COUNSELOR: You could hear kids like moaning and crying and the dust was in the air. You couldn't see the kids yet, though. And then when the dust settled down, they all just started screaming and screaming -- we're going to go in the river, we're going to go in the river.


BLITZER: In that very same moment, a daycare counselor becomes a school bus hero.

Also, a witness tells what it was like to watch the bridge and all of those vehicles plunge into the Mississippi.

And America's bridges -- many of them, so many of them in very bad shape.

Is there another disaster waiting to happen where you live?

We're going around the country to check out the situation.

Stay with us.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It felt like the concrete just disappeared and you were just falling -- just a freefall all the way down. And when we hit ground, we hit hard.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have my first child coming in two weeks, actually. And that was the first thing I thought about when I was falling is oh, my god, I'm going to die before my first kid is going to be born.


BLITZER: A 20-year-old summer camp counselor is being celebrated as a hero for his quick action after the bridge collapsed. Jeremy Hernandez is credited with getting everyone out of a school bus that didn't fall into the Mississippi, but could have at the any moment.

Our senior correspondent, Allan Chernoff, is in Minneapolis.

He's got this amazing, amazing story -- Allan.


This tragedy could have been far worse because on the ruined bridge behind me sits a bus that narrowly missed disaster.


CHERNOFF (voice-over): When the I-35 Bridge collapsed, a school bus carrying 61 children and their community center counselors went plummeting along with the concrete and steel.

HERNANDEZ: I just heard a big bang and I thought we were in a car accident. But then I felt the bus going down, because I was feeling like I was going over the seat. And then it crashed -- boom. It landed and then it felt like we kept still going, because then it went down again.

CHERNOFF: The bus was filled with dust. Twenty-year-old counselor Jeremy Hernandez could barely see the kids, some of whom are were preschoolers. But he heard their cries.

HERNANDEZ: My ears were going to pop, they were screaming so loud. I think that's another reason why I reacted so fast, because they were screaming and I couldn't -- my head was going to explode. And I was still in shock myself. And then it just hit me, like, we're going to go in the river. They're -- they're scared they're going to die. We've got to get off the bus.

CHERNOFF: Two seconds earlier and the bus would have been in the Mississippi. A second later and it could have been crushed, like the semi in the next lane.

Instead, the bus sat precariously on a collapsed chunk of roadway.

Hernandez sprung into action.

HERNANDEZ: Then I looked over at the river and then my heart started beating fast. And I just jumped over the seats and I opened the back of the door and I kicked the coolers out, and then I turned around and tried to dump kids off the bus.

And all the kids were lining up on the bridge right there by the bus. And I could feel the bridge still shaking and I was trying to tell them, you've got to get off the bridge. You've got to get off the bridge.

And then people were lining up to the bridge would hand them to me and I'm handing kids over to the guys.

CHERNOFF: Fourteen people on the bus suffered injuries. Two children and two adults remain in the hospital, but everyone survived -- in large part thanks to the heroism of Jeremy Hernandez.


CHERNOFF: Hernandez has worked at the Wait House Community Center (ph) serving low income children for nearly five years. He says after this experience, he simply does not trust bridges anymore and he plans to invest in a few maps to try to figure out how to avoid them -- not an easy job, Wolf, in this town.

BLITZER: All right, Allan, thanks very much.

I want to go back out to Minnesota.

The governor of Minnesota, Governor Tim Pawlenty, is now speaking, briefing reporters.

Let's listen in.

GOV. TIM PAWLENTY, MINNESOTA: evacuate and help the children on that school bus. So we learned today that just moments before the bridge collapsed, a tour boat, a paddle boat had come through the lock and dam system and gone underneath the bridge and it was just minutes away from the collapse. And so there were some rays of hope or good fortune in the otherwise day of horror, and some others like that.

I want to also just quickly underscore what a wonderful job the first responders have done, from law enforcement, public safety and the rest. By all accounts so far, just an extraordinary effort and a job well done so far.

We also, though, want to thank the citizens who responded, the Good Samaritans. The passerbys, just concerned everyday citizens who didn't run away from the concern or the crisis, they ran towards it to be helpful. And that reflects the Minnesota spirit and Minnesota goodness, and we're proud of their efforts, as well.

A couple of just technical matters that were brought up in earlier interviews. There was a question about the Army Corps slowing down the river to facilitate the underwater search. That underwater search continues today. They have been, earlier today and throughout, trying to slow down the river. At one point, the slow down of the river was occurring too rapidly and it started to create a suction back towards the dam.

So that had to be recalibrated. But that effort has been and continues to be underway as to the slowing down of the river.

There is, clearly, some

Cars that have been identified through sonar or visual contact that are to the west of the bridge and underwater, either totally submerged and a few partially above the water. There's also vehicles to the east of the bridge, underwater and submerged. And we know that through sonar and eyewitness accounts.

We also believe, but don't have a hard understanding yet, of how many vehicles are underneath the bridge. And that won't be known until there's an opportunity to get some heavy equipment in to move the bridge or portions of it to do that work in a safe manner.

All of this is being dictated by the safety concerns of the divers and the rescue workers. And I'm sure Rocco (ph) covered that with you. Or if he hasn't, I'm sure he can if you have other questions relating to that.

Again, it is a day of horror, but also a day where Minnesotans responded in a very positive and constructive way in the face of just horrific tragedy.

With that, we'll be happy to take any questions that you have.

QUESTION: How quickly do you think that you would be able to get any equipment in there to move that up?

PAWLENTY: The rescue workers -- now, including, you know, the full array of people that we described earlier, are working with the NTSB to make sure that as they remove debris, it doesn't affect the investigations that will be taking place. But it's, first and foremost, determined by the safety of the divers. So it has to do witness current speed of the river. It also has to do with the equipment being in position to lift it, and hopefully as soon as possible.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At this point, we are working with the Hennepin County medical examiner. At this point, we're confirming that four have died.

I fully understand the desire to get as much information as possible on that. But I strongly support the medical examiner's philosophy that they should fully inform the families on that. So we do ask for patience on that. It will move slower than most people want, but the people we are most focused on are, of course, the victims at this point, and their families.

PAWLENTY: Anything else?

QUESTION: I understood that we had an immediate inspection of those three bridges that have a similar structure to this one.

What was the deal with the other bridges?

And are you calling for inspections of all Minnesota bridges...


QUESTION: ...after that but we're prioritizing with those three?

PAWLENTY: Yes. First of all, Tom, we have the normal inspection process, which happens regularly. And Minnesota has been cited as, you know, one of the better states in that regard.

But I'm not comfortable with that. I want to make sure that we review all of the bridges in Minnesota, in addition to the normal inspection cycle.

So we're going to do an emergency routine -- an emergency round of inspections in priority order, starting with those three bridges that have the same or similar design that I shared with you earlier.

Secondly, bridges that fall in that category of structurally impaired. There are 106 of those on a state level and more at the local level.

And then the third category would be the remaining bridges.

But that would be in addition to the normal cycle of inspections. And we'll also be using a firm to evaluate the entire inspection process -- time lines, protocols -- in addition to helping us with additional personnel to do the inspections.

QUESTION: Governor, can you talk about your...

PAWLENTY: Did you have a follow up, Tom? I'm sorry.

QUESTION: Is it your sense that we have seen a shift?

Because you -- you have called for an independent review of the inspection process. NTSB was here today talking about how they are going to review how they do the inspection process. You sit on the National Board of Governors. We have 80,000 bridges in this country. They're in the same condition. They have the same designation as this one.

Do you sense that this is a watershed moment in terms of how we look at bridges and infrastructure in our country?


And, Tom, I'll also remind you that in addition to the structurally impaired designation, there are at least two other designations that are problematic or troubling that have an equal or greater number of bridges in them. So it's really an understatement to say 70,000 or 80,000 bridges nationwide.

But whether it's bridges, roads, electrical grids, other things, it's pretty clear that the country is behind on infrastructure and improvement needs to be made.

I'll also just say, obviously, there was failure in the bridge. But other things didn't go well or appropriately here and that there's going to be tough questions asked by me, by the NTSB, by these outside investigators. And we will make sure they get answers and they get addressed aggressively and promptly.

QUESTION: Well, is it your sense that this is a disaster waiting -- I don't want to overstate this -- but is it your sense that this is a disaster just waiting to happen elsewhere?

PAWLENTY: Well, again, I want to remind you that that designation of structurally deficient does not necessarily mean that bridges are unsafe or in need of immediate replacement, as we went through earlier today.

But I think anybody who looks at the national picture or the national statistics and says we don't have a problem would be naive or misleading the situation.

We do have a major problem.

QUESTION: Governor...

PAWLENTY: I'm sorry, there was a gentleman back here.

Was that you, sir?


PAWLENTY: Yes, go ahead. QUESTION: The subject (INAUDIBLE) came up earlier.

Is there any more developments on that and can you characterize your discussion with legislative leaders?

PAWLENTY: Yes. And I should say Speaker Kelleher from the house and Senator Pogemiller has -- have been with us through much of the day today, both on the tour and in the briefings. And we've been in contact with them and others.

All of this is going to get done and get done aggressively. We will do anything and everything it takes to make sure that this recovery effort is done well, that the investigations are done aggressively and that the rebuilding process takes place as promptly as possible, including a special session, if that's necessary.

QUESTION: Governor, we were told -- some of us -- earlier today, that now we're going in for a short period (INAUDIBLE) because of (INAUDIBLE).


QUESTION: ...problems and having said that, you're saying that's not true (INAUDIBLE).

PAWLENTY: The -- and we can get this confirmed -- but the understanding I have, based on the briefing we just received was this. The divers were in. As they were slowing -- trying to slow down the river, they were slowing it down so fast that it started to create a suction backwards upriver. That created a dangerous condition so they had to come out. They readjusted the flow, so to speak, of the river current. And the divers are now back in and -- or will be in.

Yes, please?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe, if I could also touch on that.

We are very concerned for human life at this point. And for safety. And that includes the responders who have been heroic at this point. It's absolutely critical for us to make sure that this is a safe -- a safe situation for those who have done so much already.

The issue of how quickly we move versus how much risk we take is important. And, sadly and tragically, we don't believe there are people who are alive in the river. That means that we're going to be very, very careful not to risk anything with the divers who are there. So we will be cautious in that regard.


PAWLENTY: What we were told earlier is that there's an identified safe zone in terms of where the divers are and can be relative to the currents and the other conditions, including, by the way, debris cabling from the bridge and some electrical cabling or wiring, as well.

And so the divers have been focused on that.

Keep in mind that we believe there are some cars underneath the bridge and they're not going to be reached quickly until we can get that equipment to lift the pieces in concert with the NTSB and their concerns.

QUESTION: The two of you have had a rocky relationship in the past several years.

Is this changing today?

Are we going to see something different between the cities and the state here?

PAWLENTY: This is a time of crisis and a time for Minnesota and America to come together.

In the past, Mayor Rybak and I haven't always agreed on everything. But I think our relationship has been cordial, interpersonally. And I think we're both committed to do whatever it takes to stand united to address these issues -- address this problem and meet the needs of Minnesotans and the citizens of Minneapolis.

And I can't tell you how grateful and proud I am of Mayor Rybak's leadership in this time of crisis. He has been extraordinary. He's been omnipresent have he's been effective. And he's been the right person at the right time for this situation, in terms of his crisis leadership.

And to answer your question, I would conclude by saying, yes, this is an opportunity for he and I to stand united and work together. And that's what I intend to do.

BLITZER: Governor Tim Pawlenty and Mayor R.T. Rybak, the governor of Minnesota, the mayor of Minneapolis standing shoulder to shoulder, working to try to deal with this enormous, enormous tragedy in Minneapolis.

To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, federal investigators appealing to witnesses to come forward with any information they might have about the Minneapolis bridge collapse.

At a news conference just a little while ago, they said any photos, video, or personal accounts will be enormously helpful as they try to piece together what happened. Families keep vigil as they wait for word of their missing loved ones.

Four people are confirmed dead from the collapse. But many cars remain submerged or pinned beneath concrete. The death toll expected to rise.

And the first lady Laura Bush will visit the scene of the collapsed bridge and meet with first responders tomorrow. President Bush plans to travel there Saturday. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

New images of those train cars caught under the collapsed bridge. Let's go immediately to our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, what do we see?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, we've seen a few images from these area up until now. These images just coming in to I-Report. The I-Reporters telling us that the police have been ushering people away from this area.

But Jeremiah Talamantes lives in an apartment building just steps away from this. And these were taken five or 10 minutes after the collapse of the bridge. To orient you, again, look at this picture from Mark Lacroix, the wide shot.

We're talking about this area across the river here. And here's the train underneath that section of the bridge, underneath that section of the roadway. Jeremiah got right up close a few minutes after this collapse, and shot these pictures of this freight train, crushed, he said, within a few minutes, people had crush rushed to the scene and police were starting to move people away.

He said that the trains don't usually move in that area, but he has only lived there for a couple months. Jennifer Beaufurst (ph) also in the same area. She got even closer to that train and snapped this picture and sent it into I-Report. Both Jennifer and Jeremiah were very close in their apartment buildings.

When this happened they described it. Jeremiah described it as sounding like a small earthquake. He felt it, as well as heard it. And Jennifer said that she only could imagine that it was a plane crash. It sounded like a whooshing sound. And then a thud, and then her lights flickered. That she went outside of her apartment building to see that the section of the bridge that she saw every day standing up vertically in the air.

And she said there were about a half dozen people around this section just looking down in disbelief -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I would say disbelief. Thank you. This was the Interstate 35W Bridge in Minneapolis. Its total length, more than 1,900 feet, almost 2,000 feet. It stood as high as 64 feet above the Mississippi. This is what the bridge is like today. Look how it simply buckled in various places, section by section, with its main span collapsing into the river, along with many of the cars it carried.

You can see how one of the steel and concrete slabs fell onto a freight train. And how a school bus, packed with dozens of children rode tons of crumbling highway onto the riverbank.

Many of the America's bridges are certainly in bad shape, from spectacular centuries-old landmarks to the half a million U.S. highway bridges. They need a lot, a lot of work. Let's go to CNN's Jeanne Meserve, she is covering this part of the story.

There are other disasters, Jeanne, I think, just waiting to happen. JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, experts say the nation's infrastructure is in crisis and bridges are a perfect example.


MESERVE (voice-over): San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, completed in 1937. New York's Brooklyn Bridge, 1869. The Eads Bridge in St. Louis, built in 1874, 133 years ago. Not only are many of the nation's bridges old, many are in disrepair. A 2005 report gave him a grade of C, more than a quarter need monitoring, major, repair, or replacement.

Some say it's an outrage.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: A bridge in America, this shouldn't fall down.

MESERVE: Many of the nation's bridges are at or beyond their designed lifespan.

ANDY COATES, CIVIL ENGINEER: It's the age of the infrastructure. Particularly if you look at the Federal Interstate Highway System, basically built in the '50s and '60s. Those bridges now are getting to be 40 to 50 years old.

MESERVE: Usage is another factor, today there are more vehicles and heavier vehicles than when most bridges were built. Experts say inspection techniques and technologies need to be improved. But most of all, bridges need to be fixed or rebuilt.

The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates bridges need an investment of $9.4 billion a year for 20 years. Right now they're getting about $2 billion a year from the federal government.


MESERVE: The Federal Highway Administration says this is the only the second bridge to fail in 20 years for structural reasons. The agency insists most bridges are safe and that those that should be closed will be, but that sadly was not the case in Minneapolis -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jeanne, thank you. The I-35 Bridge is a key link from Minneapolis, it's gone now, and that's having an effect on the flow of life in the Twin Cities. Tom Foreman is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The impact of this one bridge, this one disaster on a city like Minneapolis is significant.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's enormous, Wolf. Just think about this, no matter where you live in this country, think about the main road to where you live being cut off. We're moving into an area of about 3.5 million people. Minneapolis over here, still some Minneapolis over here. But then St. Paul further on, the state capital.

Look at what's near this bridge. As you move in, this is downtown over here. Here is the Metrodome where the Twins play and very soon here it will have the Vikings playing there again, big crowds coming in there. The university is just down here, a little bit further, another big traffic site, if you live near any university, you know how that is.

And look where this bridge is. Right in the middle of all of this. And it's a big bridge. Just think what about Wolf was saying a minute ago. A little discrepancy over how much is over the water. But very close to two football field lengths. Certainly more than one. It's wide. It's 65 feet in the air. There is at least nine feet of water underneath here. Maybe more, but a minimum of nine feet.

Replacing that is going to take a long time. So how is the city going to deal with it? Well, there have alternate routes which they have already set up and they are talking about. They want people to consider going up north and using some of the other crossings across the river, I-694 up north here.

And down further south, they're going to take a local road, Minnesota 280. And they're effectively going to convert this to an interstate highway so people can get on this. They're going to shut down some of the off and on ramps to make it no stop lights. You'll follow this all the way down here where you'll hook up to one of the big interstates that crosses the river and lets you go right into downtown.

Just as importantly, though, as they do this, they are going to be running more buses to help commuters, those 3.5 million people, the 200,000 who come across that bridge every day, to ease the impact here while they get around to rebuilding this road.

Hopefully the more they can pull together and make this work, day-to-day, will help them in a practical sense. And then as they rebuild this landmark in the middle of their town, built, frankly, right below the falls around which this whole town was built, it will also rebuild their sense that their town can recover and get past this.

BLITZER: And they got a big presidential convention coming up a year from now in Minneapolis as well. The Republicans will be gathering there. So they've got their work cut out for them.

FOREMAN: And it's a good town to do it in though in many ways though. If you spent time in Minneapolis/St. Paul, these are people who you can't really say this of every city in this country, but you can say it of this city. Very community-minded, very much the kind of people who will say, if it takes public transit, if it takes a few extra hours to get to work, whatever it does, we'll make it work because that's what they feel they owe to their community.

So they'll find a way to make it work. BLITZER: Good people there. Good people all over the country, I've got to say, not just in Minneapolis/St. Paul. But very nice people there as well. Tom, thanks very much.

Dramatic images, our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, once again, she's getting ready to show you some more of these pictures that we're seeing of this bridge collapse, the aftermath. We're going to show some of the best of them to you.

Also, it's a fear that many people have, a phobia about crossing a bridge. Carol Costello is standing by with a closer look into how the tragedy in Minnesota is playing out into those fears. Stay with us, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Just wanted to let our viewers know that this Minneapolis bridge collapse has brought a city, a city that is very important not only to Minnesota, but to the country, brought it to a crisis mode right now, as they're dealing with the aftermath.

I want to bring in one of our I-Reporters, Jeremiah Talamantes of Minneapolis who has been sending us some dramatic pictures himself.

Jeremiah, tell us about the pictures that you've submitted to us, courtesy CNN's I-Report.

JEREMIAH TALAMANTES, I-REPORTER: Well, the majority of the pictures that I took were just minutes after the bridge had collapsed. I live in Stone Arch (ph) Apartments, which is quite near where the bridge had collapsed. Literally, I felt the rumble, and I immediately knew something was wrong.

So I grabbed my camera and I rushed down by the bridge to see what happened. And I didn't expect, obviously, to see what I had saw. What I had anticipated on seeing is a really bad car accident.

But much to my surprise, I saw the bridge in shambles in front of me. And I stood there in shock for about two or three seconds, and then I just took off running in that direction. When I arrived there...

BLITZER: And then you had your camera with you and you started to take pictures?

TALAMANTES: I took pictures from -- yes, exactly. I snapped a few pictures on my way running down there. And when I got to where the bridge had come down on the train, there were very little police around. Like I said, it just happened. And it was pretty devastating.

BLITZER: And we see that railcar simply crushed under that slab of concrete and steel. Were there people around there when you were walking around?

TALAMANTES: There were a few people. Like I said, it just happened. The majority of the people that were around there were people from my building. Like I said, I live close to the bridge. And I'm sure we all heard it. We all felt it. We didn't exactly know what was going on.

But those of us who did run down there and see what was going on, a lot you have them were looking for survivors. And a lot of people were standing and crying and just in awe of what they were looking at.

BLITZER: What was the initial sound that you heard that alerted you to what was going on? Because I've heard it described in various ways. But you tell me what it sounded like.

TALAMANTES: Well, I felt it. And then it sounded like -- just like a big crash. It felt very deep and very low. So I knew that whatever had happened was pretty serious, which is why I had suggested, or suspected something had gone wrong with the trains that are nearby.

I guess the trains nearby had -- you know, I don't see a lot of movement from them. So I was a little confused as to what I might see. Those trains were stationary when the bridge had come down on them.

And like I said, I don't see a lot of movement from them. And so I expected to see a pretty devastating car accident, or something of that nature.

BLITZER: But you couldn't imagine you would see an entire interstate bridge collapse the way it did.


BLITZER: On this day after -- Jeremiah, and I'll let you go after this, on this day after, what's it like as a resident of Minneapolis to be there, to know what has happened, to observe what's going on right now?

TALAMANTES: A very somber feeling, I guess. A lot of -- I don't know, people are still in shock. I happen to work at -- my workplace is relatively near the bridge. And we just -- it's a sad feeling overall.

BLITZER: Jeremiah Talamantes, one of our CNN I-Reporters who sent us these very dramatic pictures. Jeremiah, thanks for doing that. And good luck to you. Good luck to everyone in Minneapolis.

TALAMANTES: Thank you,

BLITZER: Still ahead, Jack Cafferty is asking, are we taking our infrastructure too much for granted? Jack Cafferty with your e-mail. That's coming up.

Also, it's a fairly common phobia, fear of being on a bridge when it collapses. Will this disaster make those fears all the more real? Stay with us, our breaking news coverage continues right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Yesterday the Minneapolis bridge collapse brought this city to a standstill. We're monitoring traffic cameras across the city. Take a look at this. You can see the effects in the distance where the bridge collapsed. Now, check out the congestion on some of the traffic cameras throughout the city. Heavy congestion within a couple of miles of the collapsed bridge. And closer to the area, check it out, other traffic cameras showing that people are staying away, away from the area.

Lou Dobbs is getting ready for his program that begins right at the top of the hour. Lou, what are working on?

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Wolf, thank you very much. We'll have the very latest tonight on the search for victims in the bridge disaster in Minneapolis. And we'll be reporting on what happened when that bridge collapsed and why.

As many as 30 people remain missing. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota on the scene. She will be among our guests.

And new concerns about the safety of bridges and highways across this entire nation. Parts of our highway system are literally buckling under the weight of record traffic and congestion and a failure to repair and maintain the surface transportation system of this nation.

We'll have that report and a massive new recall of dangerous contaminated toys, toys from, where else? Communist China, just the latest in a series of recalls of dangerous imports from communist China and other nations. We'll have complete coverage for you about what your government is doing to protect American consumers.

All of that, all of the day's news, much more coming up at the top of the hour right here on CNN. Please join us. Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Lou for that.

Dramatic pictures of the Minnesota bridge collapse are raising anxiety throughout the country. Many people already have phobias about falling off a bridge. The accident in Minneapolis has governors across United States stepping up to try to reassure their citizens. Let's bring in Carol Costello, she's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

So what are they doing, Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, they're coming up front and they're appearing before the public because there is a lot of fear across the country. A lot of governors realize that. Maryland's governor actually had a news conference earlier today, you see him there. Just to make sure everyone knew Maryland's bridges were safe and had recently had been inspected.

But even though that was reassuring, it didn't calm everyone's fear of falling.


COSTELLO (voice-over): It's visual reinforcement of something so many people fear, a bridge collapsing while they are on it. A phobia historically so strong the Maryland Transportation Authority had to hire private companies to drive or tow fearful drivers across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

PAULETTE MAGARIK, FEARS BRIDGES: I have tried it a couple of times by myself and I've made. But I'm always afraid that I'll panic and stop in the middle of the bridge.

COSTELLO: She pays Kent Island Coach & Courier 25 bucks every time she has to cross the Bay Bridge. The Minnesota collapse has heightened her anxiety, so much so, she almost couldn't bear to cross the bridge. Only the thought of joining her family waiting for her kept her going. But not everyone will be as courageous.

KEN MEDELL, KENT ISLAND COACH & COURIER: I worry that people are going to change their plans and not cross the Bay Bridge because of that.

COSTELLO: Bridge collapses are not common. But when they happen, they're so visually frightening, they can cause phobias to develop.

DR. GAIL SALTZ, PSYCHIATRIST: Watching something over and over again can actually create a trauma, even if you're not personally at the event.

COSTELLO: But imagine being on the 35 West Bridge and surviving its collapse. For some of those who did, it brings all of those unconscious fears we all have to the surface.

GARY BABINEAU, SURVIVED BRIDGE COLLAPSE: I see now that any -- you know, wherever I am, anything can happen. You know, this is just a freak accident. You know, it doesn't happen every day. But stuff like this can happen. It's real in my mind now that stuff like this can happen.

COSTELLO: Dr. Saltz worries about that kind of reaction.

SALTZ: There are going to be a lot of people like this man that are going to watch it, or certainly if you're closer to it and were there, who are now going to be incapacitated with anxiety about many things that used to be unconscious and now are conscious.


COSTELLO: And you know what, some will never get over it. As for the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, it's four miles long, 25 million people pass over it every year. Last year, 4,000 felt the need to have someone drive or tow them across the bridge because they fear doing it themselves. BLITZER: Yes. I know. The people just stop in front of it before they get to bridge. Somebody comes in and drives their car across. That's a service that they provide because they are terrified, especially at the top of that bridge, when they look out, they get into a sweat. They're a lot of people like that.

COSTELLO: Yes. I'm one of them, actually. I'm telling you, it freaks me out.

BLITZER: I know, and this is only going to make matters worse. Thanks very much, Carol is watching this story for us.

We've heard so many accounts of the moments before, during, and after the bridge collapse in Minneapolis. Joe Costello was out for an evening walk when he saw the bridge go crashing down right before his eyes. Joe is joining us now live with his story.

Joe, I don't thing our viewers can get enough of what it was like. Take us back to last night. It was around 6:05 p.m. Central time, 7:05 Eastern, when this came crashing down. Where were you, what did you see?

JOE COSTELLO, WITNESS: I was approaching, I just entered the Stone Arch Bridge, which is a pedestrian-only bridge, about a quarter mile west of 35W, there were about a dozen people or so on the bridge just out for nightly exercise, joggers, bikers, walkers. A beautiful day like today, not quite as windy. Very warm out.

So there were as not quite as many people on the pedestrian bridge. And I heard some noise, not extremely loud, on the south end, a large plume of smoke almost rose up like a geyser, if you will, approximately in my estimation maybe 100 feet in the air.

And to me, from my distance, it looked like the bridge fell down in about three sections from south to north, with the north end taking a little -- delayed just a little bit. And then right afterwards, just eerily silent. And we -- a dozen of us on the bridge kind of got together for a minimum -- I would say, five to seven minutes we heard nothing in terms of sirens or anything.

It was incredibly quiet. And in fact, we didn't know if it was a planned demolition. There's several bridges in the area, and we were a little confused by which one it was because we had a horizontal view.

So we were just -- we were praying very hard it was not 35W. Obviously, of course, we learned later that it was.

BLITZER: And what was the immediate response that you had and the people you were with? How did they behave?

JOE COSTELLO: It was shock. In fact, there were some people who just kept on jogging. They really didn't think much of it. Because -- and the 10th Avenue Bridge, which is behind it, I saw cars moving, and it took a long while for cars to start stopping and looking at it. People were just in shock. The first rescue workers that arrived at the scene were certainly professional, but not moving in a panic. And they were all in a shock and sense of trance. I have heard over the reports over the last 24 hours the word "chaos."

I would definitely not use that to describe the scene last night. Throughout, it was not chaotic. It was very quiet. Eerily silent. And this is a neighborhood, kind of the St. Anthony Main neighborhood, over the last 30 days, tens of thousands of people have come down twice for a big annual fireworks celebration. So it's a big metropolitan area, but we're a small town. We came down to celebrate.

And last night, it was like a festival, everybody was coming down again. But it felt more like a vigil, it was just thousands of people, but it was very quiet watching this take place.

BLITZER: And today, what's it like today, Joe?

JOE COSTELLO: Today, I would describe as more chaotic. Because again, it's an incredible artery that goes into our financial and cultural center here in Minneapolis. And people, you know, their routine is now broken up. Just the fact that they had to use a different route.

And there's another bridges available. But it's not like these bridges weren't being used before. So now traffic is absolutely chaotic. And people -- I doubt anybody put in a full eight-hour day today at work just because of the nightmare trying to get to and from work. It's absolutely devastating to the transportation infrastructure here in Minneapolis.

BLITZER: Joe Costello, 100,000 cars at least a day used to go over that bridge. No more. Joe, thanks very much for joining us.

Hundreds of pictures keep coming into CNN from Minneapolis. Once again, let's go back to our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, what are we seeing?

TATTON: Wolf, Andrew Worrell was at the scene five or 10 minutes after this happened last night and took a moment to look back at the all the people who were watching. Look at the swarm of people gathered on the adjacent bridge there. He said this was before police arrived and shooed them away.

One person who managed to get onto the bridge and shoot this video -- this is a video that has viewed tens of thousands of times on YouTube today, was Daniele Bora, who is on an internship in Minneapolis. This is panorama view about a minute 30 long on YouTube is very popular today, showing the rescue boats.

Daniele also said that he even saw someone canoeing up to the bridge to try and help. He said the section of town was invaded, in his words, by rescue. And Daniele tells me, Wolf, that he moved to Minneapolis just two days ago -- Wolf. BLITZER: Abbi, thank you very much. And I want to show our viewers some live pictures we're getting right now, live pictures of the scene. Take a look at this, this courtesy our affiliate KARE in Minneapolis.

Jack Cafferty is watching these pictures together with all of us as well. There once was a bridge in the middle of screen there, sort of at the bottom of the screen, Jack. You can see it in the water.

CAFFERTY: Wolf, the question this hour is, are we taking our infrastructure too much from granted?

J.A. writes from Farmington Hills, Michigan: "Here's a thought, instead of our elected morons -- oh, I meant to say representatives, using earmarks to fund new bridges to nowhere, let's maintain the bridges we already have.

Jo Ann in Palo Alto, California: "Why worry about that when we can harass air travelers by limiting our shampoo and toothepaste. Heckuva job, heckuva priority. Bush's homeland security effort is simply to scare us, not protect us from anything."

Dennis in Vancouver, Washington: "Jack, just finished listening to Hagel and Dodd, they were in the last hour of THE SITUATION ROOM, do their tap dance and dissemble routine. The only thing left now is for Bush to show up and tell someone from his administration they're doing a heckuva job. The United States seems to have the money to produce the weapons to destroy a country, and have the money then to rebuild that country. But we have to go to Wall Street to fund the infrastructure of the United States. God help us, the government sure as hell isn't."

Steve in Denver: "Jack, when are you going to announce your allegiance to the Socialist Party? You're the equivalent journalistically of T-ball hitter. You pick and choose your e-mails so that they represent your anti-administration bias, and then you knock them out of the park. Do you really think anyone considers you a credible journalist?"

Stephen in Macon, Georgia, writes: "Jack, in today's consumer culture, we want everything right. But there is nothing shiny or pretty about fixing up our existing roads, rails and bridges. If this is the greatest country on Earth, why can't we muster the will to fix and maintain the basics."

And Dee in Detroit: "The reality of rebuilding this country's infrastructure means more of our tax dollars being spent. Americans apparently can be convinced to part with their money for unnecessary wars based on lies that are supposed to free Iraqis from tyrants, but when it comes to repairing the dangerous bridges their kids' school buses cross twice a day every day, all bets are off."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to We post more of them online along with video clips of the "Cafferty File" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: See you back here in one hour, Jack. Thank you very much.

"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now -- Lou.

DOBBS: Thank you, Wolf.