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THE SITUATION ROOM
More Details on Minnesota Bridge Collapse
Aired August 2, 2007 - 1900 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Lou.
Happening now, as divers search for victims in the Minnesota bridge collapse, tearful family members await word about missing relatives. For some, though, their worst fear is right now being realized. He felt the crash and heard the screams of children as the school bus perched at the edge of a mangled roadway. Just in a heartbeat a day care counselor becomes a hero. We'll hear from him and hear. And we'll also hear from a search and rescue diver about the desperate recovery efforts in the murky and very dangerous waters of the Mississippi.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
A desperate search for the missing and for clues, here's what we know about the deadly bridge collapse in Minneapolis right now. Divers have been dealing with twisted debris and low visibility looking for victims in the Mississippi River. As many as 30 people are believed missing. At this point the official death toll stands at four, but authorities say more bodies are in the water.
More than 70 people have been treated for injuries. Many remain in hospitals. A handful still listed as critical and federal investigators will try to piece together parts of the bridge to learn how it collapsed and this just coming in from The Associated Press, The AP reporting federal officials have alerted states to immediately inspect all -- all similar bridges and we've also just received some heartbreaking news into THE SITUATION ROOM, a family who appeared on CNN looking for their missing mother and wife has just received the worst possible news.
Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She's on the scene for us in Minneapolis. Update our viewers on this heartbreaking story, Mary.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really is heartbreaking, Wolf, and the story we brought you earlier today taking a tragic turn. Sixty-year-old Sherry Engebretsen has been declared dead by the medal examiner's office. She was 60 years old and earlier today her family had been clutching to the hope that she was still alive. Here is what her family had to say earlier this afternoon before this tragic news came.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Get a signal and... 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, DAUGHTER: She just said that she's coming home and we were going to have a family dinner and 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, HUSBAND: Right now we're just hoping and praying that she's in someplace where they're taking care of her or some air pocket.
SNOW: The family says Sherry didn't normally take 35 West but changed her routine.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sherry made a decision, obviously that decision was she felt that she could get across the bridge because at that point you can see going north where we live that you can maybe get there quickly or maybe she thought it's the direct location to our home and she made that choice and we support that choice. I mean, that is something that we always stand behind.
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 and 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: Try to use whatever means I can. I just recently received a list of employees' names so I could provide it to the Red Cross and local law enforcement to see if they can cross reference it against their list.
SNOW: And once again, late word that 60-year-old Sherry Engebretsen has been declared dead. Her family was hoping to find her alive and had launched a search for her today. Wolf?
BLITZER: And we had heard as you point out, Mary, from her two daughters and her husband, they were holding out hope that she was alive. Unfortunately, now, the county medical examiner's office has confirmed that she's passed away and she's dead, unfortunately. We have to express our condolences to that family and wish them our deepest sympathy.
The bridge was jam packed with traffic when it unexpectedly buckled, plunging people into the river. Carol Costello has been monitoring this part of the scene. A horror story that's unfolding, Carol, but I want to you share with our viewers what you're learning.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: You know Sherry really never had a chance. Depending upon where you were on the bridge because it all happened so very fast. It took just four seconds for an eight-lane bridge to collapse. It went into the water collapsing like an accordion.
COSTELLO (voice-over): 6:05, dozens of people struggling through rush hour. Then what felt like an earthquake.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic and going about five miles an hour and I felt some shimmying and then a big jolt and at that point that's when cars in front of me started to disappear.
COSTELLO: Those cars disappearing because the bridge collapsed in seconds. There was little time to react.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Within a few minutes we were just boom, boom, boom. I mean we felt this horrible and we were falling, literally falling. I don't think I've explained that but when you're -- when I'm saying these booms, you're falling at the same time like I don't know we're guessing 40 feet. We don't know, it could have been more, but -- then all of a sudden we were stopped and our car was at this awful angle, you know just smashed in and we were on top of a smaller car.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was about to get out of my car and then cars were skitting (ph) down the incline above me on the piece that was still connected and they were falling, you know, they were falling, you know coming down the incline.
COSTELLO: For those who survived it was time to thank God and to help those who weren't so lucky.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We carried people from the bridge on, you know, put them on stretchers and then carried them to the ambulance. You know when you put a bloodied delusional pregnant woman onto a stretcher and then carry her to the ambulance it's one of those things you're going to remember for awhile.
COSTELLO: Remember and try to make sense of and find whatever silver lining you can.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you think about what the scene looked like, the fact that we had 80 people injured in and of itself is somewhat of a miracle it's that low.
COSTELLO: But, of course there are more victims, divers now underwater taking down license plate numbers of the cars they find. Twelve we hear so far. But they are sure other cars are down there too underneath giant pieces of concrete with people inside. BLITZER: People don't appreciate how dangerous it is for these divers to actually go into those waters with those huge concrete slabs, the steel, the sharp objects; it's an incredibly complex and very dangerous situation.
COSTELLO: Yes, at one point the current in the water was so bad the divers had to stop for awhile. The visibility under that water isn't so great either so it's very dangerous work, but I'm sure they will continue, you know, when it's safe and try to get all those people out.
BLITZER: We're going to be hearing from one of those divers later this hour, Carol, thanks very much. Take a look at this video captured by a security camera. It shows the bridge as it collapsed and you can see cars and their occupants literally plunging into the water.
One official says and I'm quoting now "a bridge in America just shouldn't fall down" this one clearly did. Right now that highway bridge is a mess of -- a mass of twisted debris but investigators will literally be trying to put the pieces together to try to learn what happened. Let's go to Brian Todd. He's on the scene in Minneapolis. What's the latest with the investigation, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, wolf, investigators are telling us this is one of the most difficult cases they have ever faced right now. They are having to deal with rescue teams right next to them in the water trying to find bodies. At the same time the investigators are trying to find clues amid massive slabs of rubble and concrete, still, investigators are telling us they have 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.
MARK ROSENKER, NTSB CHAIRMAN: What we're particularly pleased about is, one, getting that video. That is the equivalent in getting a cockpit voice recorder or a flight data recorder.
TODD: 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. A crucial part of the probe, two reports on this bridge over the past six years which cited structural deficiencies and evidence of fatigue in some areas. State officials defend their actions regarding those reports.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While there were concerns about stress and fatigue and aspects of this bridge MN/DOT (ph) has informed me that it did not result in a calling for an immediate replacement or closure.
TODD: Still other officials offered some clues into this bridge's past. DAN DORGAN, MINNESOTA DEPT. OF TRANSPORTATION: In 1990 it was classified as a structurally deficient bridge due to corrosions of the bearings so that they were not able to move as freely as we -- as designed. Since that time, as the years have passed we have also had some corrosion of the steel around the joints of the bridge.
TODD: But officials stress in recent inspections they found no signs of cracks, so what do civil engineers think happened?
TED GALAMBOS, STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Only way that I can see is that there was some kind of major damage across all of the trusses of the bridge at that point.
TODD: But this case is still very much of a mystery. One key question, did the construction work that was taking place at the time of the collapse have anything to do with it? I spoke with the head of that construction company earlier today. He said that his workers were only doing surface work on the top of that bridge and that it played no role in this disaster, Wolf.
BLITZER: And I'm told, Brian, there are some new complications these searchers are having to deal with now.
TODD: That's right. Top state official just told me that they're finding that several cars are pinned under these massive slabs of concrete and steel in this bridge. They're trying to get to them. They can't get to many of them even though they're using sonar and in some cases finding cars with no people in them so that ratchets up the, you know, the search for people. They don't know whether they drifted downstream, whether they drowned. Lots of complications, it still hasn't been determined whether they can continue this search after nightfall, Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian Todd on the scene for us. Brian thanks very much.
Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He has got "The Cafferty File" in New York. You know, Jack, one expert suggested to me earlier, this bridge was built in 1967, 40 years ago, that they now have to go and take a look at all the bridges that were built by the same construction company, the same design, some 40 years ago to see if they're in trouble too potentially because as you know this is a life and death matter now.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Well that would make sense, I guess, to begin there, but there are a lot more bridges than that that are probably deserving of a close look just to see what kind of shape they're in. We could consider the bridge collapse in Minneapolis, Wolf, to be a warning. It's pretty clear that it's way past time that we invested more money in our bridges, roads and other infrastructure around the country, preventive maintenance on a lot of this stuff way, way overdue.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has been busy rebuilding another country; we just learned this week the war in Iraq could cost American taxpayers upwards of $1 trillion by the time it's over whenever that is. It's estimated we're already paying $2 billion a week to preside over Iraq's civil war. Several years' worth of relief and reconstruction projects in Iraq have come with a price tag, the U.S. taxpayers of over $44 billion and for what?
A recent report by the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction shows that although the U.S. has finished 2,800 reconstruction projects in Iraq, the Iraqi government has taken control of exactly 435 of them, the total outlay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan so far over $600 billion. Think for a minute about what we could do with that money here at home. Not only to improve our own infrastructure but for other domestic needs that go wanting.
Here's the question. In light of the Minnesota bridge collapse, how could the U.S. better spend the $2 billion a week that we're pouring into Iraq here at home? E-mail your thoughts on that to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.
BLITZER: A lot of people are outraged by that, Jack. Thanks very much.
Dangerous children riding a very, very dangerous plunge, but defying death, we're going to tell you about that busload of kids whose field trip was interrupted when the bridge opened underneath them.
And an eyewitness to disaster, you're going to hear firsthand descriptions of just what happened, and harrowing images sent in by the public to us. We're going to show you some of them.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Our special coverage of the breaking news in Minneapolis continues.
BLITZER: And this just coming in. We're getting a statement from the Department of Transportation here in Washington. There are approximately 750 bridges similar to the one that collapsed in Minneapolis, all around the United States and the Transportation Secretary Mary Peters has just instructed the government to tell state transportation authorities across the country to immediately inspect all of those bridges of the exact same design of the bridge that collapsed, 35 W, in Minneapolis.
Approximately 750 bridges according to the Department of Transportation are similar steel deck truss construction bridges. We don't know what happened, the spokesman says, but they are going to inspect all 750 of these other bridges similar in design, quote, "out of an abundance of caution."
Some of the divers have just within the last few hours discovered 11 vehicles in the river, two downstream, nine upstream. One of those vehicles is an 18-wheel tractor trailer. There are bodies in those vehicles. The vehicle is removed. Otherwise, it's marked for later identification. One of those divers tells us about the painstaking search.
CAPT. SHANNA HANSON, MINNESOTA FIRE DEPARTMENT: 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 command working that way so that they had two distinct operations going on at the same time and I was just on one side so when I speak I'm only speaking about the rescue recovery for my side. For an incident this complex, obviously they need to start sectoring it 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 railcars.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: North side or...
HANSON: I was on the north side.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you're going in the water, clearly it's dangerous. Tell us about that, some of your concerns and what's in the water.
HANSON: Honestly I wasn't thinking about what is in the water other than what they train you (UNINTELLIGIBLE) where you are concerned about something snagging you and dragging your line underneath, so we always work on a quick connect with that, so that if a line got 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 into -- when I was going into them to check them, we were trained to do the job. You just kind of go in and do it. You don't think about it much until afterwards.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) swift water rescue.
HANSON: Swift water rescue, especially in an area like us with the locks and dams is extremely dangerous.
BLITZER: Some of the children -- some of the survivors are children. Let's get back to this part of the story, the sorrow, the survivors after that bridge in Minneapolis unexpectedly buckled plunging people into the river. A group of schoolchildren, that group was on a bus on the bridge and rode tons of falling concrete to the riverbank below.
Mary Snow is once again joining us from the scene with more on this incredible part of the story -- Mary.
SNOW: It really is incredible, Wolf, and thankfully everybody on that bus survived and today a young camp counselor is being credited with being a hero. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
SNOW (voice-over): An afternoon outing turns into a nightmare for 52 kids and nine adults on a school bus.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were on our way back from a swimming field trip and we're riding over the bridge and the bridge collapsed and we were right on the part where it went down -- it curved down.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It felt scary because first we thought we crashed but then we felt like -- we felt us going down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you look out the window? What did you see?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I didn't look out the window. All I saw was -- I just dust everywhere and people were screaming.
SNOW: Unlike many cars around it, the bus does not go tumbling into the water or crumble in two.
JEREMY HERNANDEZ, RESCUED STUDENTS AFTER COLLAPSE: 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, so then it went down again. Then it crashed and it stopped and then you could hear kids like moaning and crying.
SNOW: One mom on the bus credits staff member Jeremy Hernandez's quick thinking for saving lives on the spot. She says he busted open the back door of the bus and helped hustle the kids to safety.
HERNANDEZ: They were all screaming. They were all -- they were thinking they were going to die even when we were safe they were just -- they wanted hair parents and they didn't want nobody to leave them.
SNOW: Eyewitnesses describe the chaos as it unfolded.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a group of kids that were pulled off and they were crying when we came down. They were just getting pulled out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most of them were crying pretty bad, a lot of, you know, screaming, crying, a couple of them were bleeding, you know, a couple of them, it really looked like they were hurt and they had to be, you know -- we were kind of setting them on the ground and telling them to you know run away from the bridge, but a couple of them had to be carried away to a safe distance because we didn't think at the time that they could, you know, walk or we didn't want to chance it if they did have, you know broken bones.
SNOW: Frantic parents watched the scene on television waiting for any news of their loved ones and then for these families a happy ending. Everyone on board survived a summer outing they will never forget.
SNOW: And certainly this harrowing experience is something that everyone will remember on that bus and so many grateful parents tonight that their children did survive. Fourteen people were taken to the hospital on that bus. All but four remain in the hospital. That includes two children, two adults and that does include the bus driver -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank God that they all survived. Thank you very much, Mary, for that. Mary Snow is on the scene for us in Minneapolis.
The sights and sounds of the disaster, pictures and accounts have been pouring into THE SITUATION ROOM. We're going to share some of the most dramatic eyewitness reports with you.
And it's their worst nightmare come true. We'll take a closer look at the strong fear some people have of bridges, how does the phobia develop and what happens when they see pictures like these?
Stay with us. Our breaking news coverage continues right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: These are live pictures coming in from our affiliate KARE. You can see the debris. You can see that rescue boat in the Mississippi River. They're searching for bodies, trying to deal with the enormity of this situation. Just check out these live pictures from Minneapolis to understand what's going on. Look at the bottom part of the screen.
You see the cars still in the twisted concrete and steel of what once was an interstate bridge. We've received many extraordinary images from people on the scene in Minneapolis. Here are some of the most compelling pictures from viewers sending us their I-Reports. Let's go to some. Deb Feyerick is watching this part of the story. Some of these images, Deb, have clearly been amazing.
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And you have to understand that either people raced to a nearby bridge or down to the banks of the Mississippi, some stayed outside the perimeter. Others were able to get inside. But they told incredible stories and these are the things they saw.
FEYERICK (voice-over): Some first heard the noise. Others saw the smoke. All grabbed their cameras or cell phones to show those on the outside the tragedy so close to home. Mark Lacroix (ph) called 911 before snapping pictures.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm in my apartment about 20 stories up so I heard this massive rumbling, shaking basically, looked out my window, saw the last few seconds of it collapse.
FEYERICK: John Gilbert (ph) heard the noise too. He had driven across the bridge minutes earlier and was walking back intending to catch the Twins game at the nearby Metro Dome.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The wind shifted just enough and I could see this little yellow dot and it looked like a school bus and that's when I said to everybody around me, I'm like oh, my, gosh, there's a school bus right over there and everybody turned and looked and that's when I still had my camera phone on and I snapped that picture.
FEYERICK: Now Minnesota is in the middle of a major drought and records show that the river is much lower than it normally would be at this time of year. One of the I-Reporters pointed out that in his estimation had the water been higher then many more vehicles would either have been submerged or swept away by the current -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Deborah Feyerick watching these images with us. Thanks very much, Deb.
Still to come, he thought on his feet when a school bus loaded with children brushed with the worst kind of danger. From day care counselor to hero in an instant, we'll have the dramatic story. And more harrowing accounts of the bridge collapse, disaster through the eyes of those who saw it and are sure to remember it forever.
Stay with us. Our coverage continues here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Even as we get more terrible and tragic details, it's clear the toll of the disaster could have been even worse. I'm talking about that school bus packed with young children, it was on the bridge when it gave way. Incredibly as we now know everyone inside survived. More than 50 children. Here's the account of a man who is now being called a hero.
JEREMY HERNANDEZ, RESCUED STUDENTS AFTER COLLAPSE: When it happened, I thought I was dreaming because I was just sleeping because I was tired. I woke up at 9:00. We took the kids to go to swimming lessons and then we came back to get ready to go to our other field trip. I was kind of tired so I went to sleep and then one of the kids woke me up right before we hit the bridge.
And I was looking at the bridge and I remember because I was looking at the dam and I was thinking, we used to fish down there, and I was -- everything was going through my head and then I see where the boats crossed through and then 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 felt like we kept still going because then it went down again, then it crashed and it stopped.
And then you could hear kids like moaning and crying. They were thinking they were going to die. Even when we were safe, they were just -- they wanted their parents and they didn't want nobody to leave them. They all were trying to hold on to all the staff there at once and they just didn't want to let go.
They just -- I didn't think they knew they were safe yet until they seen their parents.
BLITZER: And I know I speak for all of our viewers when I say, thank you to this hero.
This was the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis. Its total length, check it out, 1,900 feet. It stood as high as 64 feet above the Mississippi River. And this is the bridge today. Very, very different.
Take a look at how it buckled section by section with its main span collapsing into the river along with dozens of cars. You can see how one of the steel and concrete slabs fell onto a freight train and how that school bus that we've been talking about packed with dozens of kids rode tons of crumbling highway on to the riverbank.
We've heard numerous accounts of the moments before, during and after the bridge collapse. Joe Costello was out for an evening walk in Minneapolis when he saw the bridge go crashing down right before his eyes.
BLITZER: 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 other 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.
BLITZER: A lot of people have phobias about bridges, in fact, it's not uncommon for people to fear being on a bridge when it collapses. Will this disaster make those fears all the more real?
And America's bridges in bad shape. Is another disaster waiting to happen where you live? Stay with us. We're watching all of these stories unfold right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: 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 authorities across the United States stepping up their efforts to try to reassure citizens. Carol Costello, once again, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
So what are they doing, Carol?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, they are appearing publicly to reassure their citizens. I mean, there is a lot of fear across the country and a lot of governors realize that. Maryland's governor, for example, held a news conference earlier today just to make everyone knew Maryland's bridges were safe and had been recently inspected.
But even though that was reassuring, it did not 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 who are going to watch it, or certainly if you're closer to it and were there, who are now going to become incapacitated with anxiety about many things that used to be unconscious and now are conscious.
COSTELLO: Oh, and some of them will never get over it. As for the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, it's four miles long, 25 million people pass over it every year, and last year 4,000 felt the need to have someone drive or tow them over the bridge because they're afraid to drive it themselves.
BLITZER: These people are scared about that and it is a pretty frightening bridge to go over. You've gone over that bridge.
COSTELLO: Oh yes, and you know, it sways when the wind blows, so you're driving over it and you're scared anyway and your palms start sweating, the wind blows, the bridge starts swaying, and some people have a panic attack.
BLITZER: A lot of bridges like that all over the country as well. And unfortunately, as we're learning, a lot of them are not necessarily all that safe so maybe all that sweat is justified.
COSTELLO: Right. And the feds have now said, governors, have your transportation departments check your bridges. It's required now.
BLITZER: Thanks, Carol, very much.
Hundreds of eyewitnesses to the bridge collapse are sending in breathtaking images to CNN. Let's go back to our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton.
Abbi, we've gotten some of the very first pictures of this tragic accident through I-Report. What have the viewers been sending in since?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, since this first one came in about 24 hours ago, we have had over 400 different angles, different stories, photos coming into CNN through I-Report. These just received from Bob Bauer. Some of the closest to the time of the actual collapse that I've seen.
Bob traveling over the adjacent bridge shot these with his cell phone, a panorama of what he saw. Once the smoke disappeared, he said the bridge was just gone. And as Bob was standing there shooting this and sending this to CNN's I-Report, Tim Davis, who lived about a mile away, was heading to this area here where the bridge had collapsed over land.
He got these close-up pictures of the concrete just folded over, the iron, the steel, that buckled. The first responders going to the scene, some of the cars tossed around as if they were toy cars, some thrown clear of the bridge, flipped over, policemen there looking under for survivors.
And this one from Tim particularly stuck with me. People's personal belongings strewn around along with the wreckage. There's a CD there, magazines, someone's cooler along with the slabs of concrete -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Heartbreaking, heartbreaking pictures indeed. Abbi, thank you.
It's a story you need to hear. The government says almost 74,000 bridges across the United States are "structurally deficient." Are you riding on one of them?
And Jack Cafferty is asking this question, in light of the bridge collapse, how could the U.S. government better spend the billions it's pouring into Iraq right here at home? Jack with your e-mail, all that coming up.
BLITZER: There are almost 600,000 U.S. highway bridges and the federal government says close to 74,000 of them are "structurally deficient." That means they need significant maintenance, rehabilitation or replacement. Many of America's bridges are in very bad shape. Here's CNN's Jeanne Meserve -- Jeanne.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: 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.
GOV. TIM PAWLENTY (R), MINNESOTA: I think anybody who looks at the national picture, the national statistics and says we don't have a problem would be naive or misleading the situation. We do have a major problem.
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 only the second bridge to fail for structural reasons in 20 years. 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.
Search and rescue crews are working around the clock in Minneapolis trying to locate those still missing. Overseeing it all is the governor of Minnesota.
BLITZER: And joining us now from the scene, the Minnesota governor, Tim Pawlenty.
Governor, thanks very much and our condolences to everyone in Minnesota, appreciate very much the struggle that you guys are going through. Tell our viewers about this search, the search for, I guess, bodies right now in the Mississippi River. You spoke earlier of sonar equipment being used. What's going on?
PAWLENTY: Wolf, first of all, thank you for your sentiments and the sentiments and prayers of your viewers for the lost and for the injured and the others impacted. We appreciate that.
In terms of the search, there is an underwater search taking place with divers, there's a safe zone that has been established that we know there are some vehicles on both sides of the bridge that are submerged, some that are partially submerged.
And, Wolf, we also know that there are -- or suspect there are some vehicles underneath the bridge that we are not going to be able to get to until those sections of the bridge can be lifted. So it's going to be a slow process but they're getting to those vehicles in the safe zone. They are also some vehicles beyond the safe zone that they haven't been able to reach.
BLITZER: Is it accurate, as we've been reporting, that 20 to 30 people are believed still missing?
PAWLENTY: There are estimates that kind of run a range, Wolf, and so we can't say for sure what that number is. But the best guess or best estimate would be somewhere in that range. BLITZER: Is there any new information about what caused this bridge simply to collapse, almost like an accordion within a few seconds? Are your engineers, your experts giving you any sense of what might have occurred?
PAWLENTY: Well, of course, the NTSB, the National Transportation Safety Board, is doing an investigation, we're hiring a separate firm to do a parallel redundant investigation to make sure nothing is missed.
There were concerns about this bridge, but none of the experts said it was about to fall down or collapse. There were certainly things that were flagged that needed to be addressed, but in terms of replacing the bridge or fundamentally overhauling it, they were looking at, you know, 10 or 15 years from now.
But there were some concerns expressed. I'm sure that will be part of the focus of the investigation.
BLITZER: And so the assumption, though, the working assumption is some sort of structural problem existed that had been undetected in all the various inspections two, three, four years ago.
PAWLENTY: Well, I think, Wolf, there was an inspection in 2005 and 2006 that cited some problems but concluded the bridge didn't need to be replaced until some time in the future.
There are some other reports saying there were some enhancements or refurbishments that needed to be done to the bridge but no call that it had to be immediately closed or replaced.
So I'm sure those issues will be flushed out in the investigation. The NTSB is saying they're going to look at everything including all of those elements.
BLITZER: Do you have an estimate of how much it's going to cost to rebuild this interstate bridge?
PAWLENTY: Well, there's the bridge and there's also approach ramps and approach streets. But the bridge and all of that just on the reconstruction side, somewhere in the neighborhood of $150 million to $350 million would be just a guess.
BLITZER: Governor, good luck to you and good luck to everyone in Minnesota dealing with this crisis.
PAWLENTY: Thank you, Wolf. We appreciate your concern.
BLITZER: Paula Zahn is coming up right at the top of the hour. Let's check in with Paula to see what's coming up. Hi, Paula.
PAULA ZAHN, HOST, "PAULA ZAHN NOW": Hi, Wolf, thanks.
We will continue the special primetime coverage out of Minneapolis. I'll be talking with a survivor who was driving on the bridge when it simply collapsed underneath her. She is going to tell us her remarkable survival story.
Also the stories of the heroes who saved that bus full of children. Can you imagine the terror in those kids' eyes? We'll be talking to a 10-year-old who miraculously got out of the bus and with her mother who got a terrifying phone call from her child as she was being rescued.
All that and more coming up at the top of the hour -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you, Paula. We'll be watching.
It's your money. How should it be spent? Jack Cafferty is asking this question: In light of the bridge collapse, how could the U.S. better spend the billions it's pouring into Iraq right here at home? Jack with your e-mail right after this.
BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty, he is in New York, for the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: Wolf, the question is, in light of the Minnesota bridge collapse, how could the United States better spend the $2 billion or $3 billion a week that we're pouring into Iraq here at home?
A. in Oregon writes: "Our tax money could be well spent in this country to rebuild, create more jobs, and solidify our nation. Anything we build in Iraq is destroyed and blown up. Like little children that don't know how to play with their toy, the Iraqis have no value system for what we offer. We need to take care of our needs first."
Patrick writes: "We don't have bullet trains that run over 200 miles an hour. Our electric grid quit once. It's in danger of doing so again. The locks and dams in Pittsburgh are under weight restriction. Most are over 60 years old. The bridges are falling down. Only hawks and people making money off Iraq want to keep the war going. What happened to America?"
Nancy writes: "There are so many things we could do with that money it boggles the mind. It's time we stopped spending money on war and fixed up our own country. We need the Katrina victims taken care of, first and foremost, they have been waiting for two years."
Paul writes: "The war in Iraq is happening overseas, that bridge collapsed 15 minutes from my home. The world is a cold place and I feel we need to take care of our own nation before taking care of others."
Tom in Wilmington, Delaware: "We can't place a monetary value on the lives lost with the collapse of the bridge in Minnesota, but we should realize that it would've cost a lot less to maintain that bridge than it will cost to recover bodies, cars and parts of the bridge. More importantly, those people didn't have to die. Maintaining the infrastructure of our country is the responsibility of elected officials and if they can't do their jobs, they should be removed from office."
And Steven writes from Hawaii: "Aloha, Jack, what's the problem? Just identify all of America's infrastructure as 'Taliban' or 'Islamic extremists' or 'gay marriage proponents,' and presto, all the money in the federal budget will be thrown at it to attack the problem."
If you didn't see our e-mail here, you can go to cnn.com/caffertyfile. We post more of them online along with video clips of the "Cafferty File." It has been quite a couple days -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Amazing story, Jack. Thanks very much, we'll do it again tomorrow. To our viewers, I want to thank all of you for joining us as well. Remember, we're here in THE SITUATION ROOM weekday afternoons from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern, back for another hour at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.
I want to leave you this personal note. This is Paula Zahn's last night with us. She joined CNN six years ago. In fact, her very first day on the air here on CNN was actually on 9/11. We all remember her brilliant reporting that day in New York. And now she leaves us as CNN is covering another major breaking news story.
I know I speak for all of our viewers when I thank Paula for all her excellent work. And on a very personal note, I loved working with Paula because she is a solid reporter, a true professional, and a really nice person.
Good luck down the road, Paula. I hope our paths will continue to cross. Thanks very much.
ZAHN: Oh, that is so generous of you. And this is such a small world. I'm sure our paths will cross again. We have witnessed some extraordinary things together, some of the most important political events of the last six years, and I too salute your professionalism, your sense of fairness, and your camaraderie.
You were a great teammate, Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, I loved working with you. And I know down the road, we'll be doing it again.
ZAHN: All right. Wolf, thank you so much with the nice send- off, appreciate it.
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