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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Bridge Over Mississippi River Collapses

Aired August 1, 2007 - 23:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: There is still a lot to cover. It is now 11:00 on the East Coast in the United States. It is 10:00 in Minneapolis. It is 8:00 here in California. There is much to tell you about. Six people are confirmed dead tonight in Minneapolis in what the governor calls a catastrophe of historic proportions for that state.
This will be a tragic night before it is over. Mayor RT Rybak said just about 45 minutes ago it is already a tragedy in homes and living rooms across Minneapolis as people are watching transfixed, literally around the world, watching right now.

Here is what we know. This bridge was inspected last in 2005 and 2006, according to Governor Tim Powlenty. No structural deficiencies were reported at those times, according to the governor.

The deck was said to be -- needed a rehabbing perhaps by 2020, but according to the governor, no structural deficiencies.

All survivors who were on the bridge have now been taken off the bridge. The bridge has so far been cleared, but structural engineers from the Army Corps of Engineers as well as local and state officials are trying to examine parts of the bridge to see if they can still send in some rescue workers because there are still areas of the bridge, there are still vehicles that have not been searched.

So at this point it is not clear that all the people who were on that bridge have been accounted for.

For a sense of what it was like being on that bridge, because as we know, this was a rush hour incident. There were anywhere from 50 to 100 cars on that bridge, according to one early report. We don't have an official number at this point. But many of those cars we are -- we have not heard directly from people who were on the bridge as much.

Here is one eyewitness, a person who was on the bridge and who feels very lucky to be alive tonight. Let's listen in. It is an audiotape made.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, SURVIVOR OF BRIDGE COLLAPSE: Half the bridge is in the -- in the -- Mississippi River. Half of it is -- is on the ground. And I -- I fell probably about 30, 40 feet. Landed on the shore of the Mississippi. I'm so lucky to be alive. On the way down, I thought I was dead. I literally thought I was dead. My truck was completely face down. It was pointing towards the ground falling towards the grown and my truck got ripped in half. When I -- when I got out of my truck, it was -- it was in -- it was folded in half. And I can't believe I'm -- I'm alive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe there's a reason -- there's a reason.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... wearing my seatbelt.

I had my seat belt on, and if I didn't, I -- I don't know what would have happened. I would have probably would have went through the windshield. I'm lucky I only have a cut on my face from the steering wheel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, Gary, you said that when you fell, you saw other cars, you saw other people in the water?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. There was a -- I saw a tanker go head first into the water. And there was only about five feet of the back end showing out of the water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. That's -- that's actually out farther on the bridge. I was -- I was down towards the water more. And the -- the car that's on fire, there's -- they are lucky. They fell about 10 feet. And that might be the school bus that was actually -- we ran up -- we ran up the incline of the fallen bridge, and there was a school bus full of probably 8-year-olds to 14-year-olds and we literally had to carry them off of the bridge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you had time to see this because you said you were only going less than 10 miles an hour.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Going bumper to bumper traffic. We were probably going 10 miles an hour. There was a lot of cars on that bridge.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

COOPER: That from a man who was on the bridge at the time of the collapse.

We have been getting a lot of I-Report images, people sending in pictures from camera cell phones. We want to show some of them to you now, just giving different perspectives on what individuals have seen all across this -- this span of the Mississippi River.

This again happened at around 6:05 -- almost exactly four hours ago.

These are just some of the I-Report pictures. But authorities are telling people who may want to go to the scene, please do not. Stay away from the scene at this point. They are trying -- they are very concerned about the security of this whole area, the perimeter around here. The last thing they need is more people going down there, trying to take pictures with their cameras and their cell phones.

These pictures were taken much earlier today by people who happened to be on the scene or very close to the scene when this happened.

Ian Punnett of a local radio station, FM-107 is on the scene. Has been on the scene for quite some time now.

Ian, you were talking about what you were hearing from those who were on the bridge. You talked to -- to a dozen or so, you were saying, people who had been on the bridge, or half a dozen or so. What have they been telling you? How did they describe it?

IAN PUNNETT, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST (on the phone): Well, Anderson I moved to another area. Now I'm on the east side of the recovery effort, and I'm just pulling into an area that the police are leading me into.

The -- what I can see and what I can tell you is anybody with a cell phone camera is not going to see much anyway at this point. I mean, it's dark. Even the lights -- the emergency lights aren't illuminating much.

And what we are hearing, again, more survivor stories, people -- in some cases, one woman who just turned to the scene. She was -- she was there earlier and it's almost like she's coming back to process what she had experienced personally earlier.

I only overheard part of her conversation before I started to move. But she was telling people what it was like to walk off that bridge and to look behind and expect it to collapse behind her at any second. And she was just glad that she got back under the bank of the Mississippi.

COOPER: As we look at these pictures, Ian, it is just -- it is surreal. After a while they seem to become normal. You have to sort of shake your head and remind yourself what you are looking at.

This is an interstate highway bridge that has simply collapsed -- four lanes at rush hour, plunging people into the river, an untold number of people.

Ian, stay by with us.

Brad Walton of WCCO AM radio news is on the line with us.

They are reporting 40 to 60 people hurt, six dead, but very possibly those numbers will rise.

Brad, what are -- what are you -- what's going on? What are you hearing? BRAD WALTON, REPORTER, WCCO AM RADIO NEWS (on the phone): I tell you, as you were talking about the pictures there, Anderson, the images here are even more riveting.

I was on this bridge 24 hours just before the collapse yesterday. My daughter was on the bridge actually, at 3:00 this afternoon, three hours before the collapse, and we -- we understand now there are about -- well, the reports here from the Coast Guard, about 50 cars in the river. And somewhere between 40 and 60 injured, and six confirmed fatalities right now. And that is anticipated to be maybe, to go higher.

(CROSSTALK)

WALTON: But it's plain miraculous at this point the numbers are what they are, considering what happened.

COOPER: Yes.

You say anticipated to go higher based on what -- what they are still finding at the scene or based on what -- what other area hospitals have yet to report?

WALTON: My guess is probably a bit of both. I mean, I don't think all the recovery work is done, and I think at this point because, you know, we had just a short time here really before nighttime fell, some of the recovery in terms of just getting all the details with regards to the number of vehicles that may yet be found or that's under the rubble or actually in the river itself.

COOPER: Yes. It's not clear to me, and I don't know if it's clear to you, Brad, at this point. The mayor had talked about 50 vehicles have so far been searched. We had also heard this report about as many as 50 vehicles in the water. I'm not sure if they have searched all the vehicles in the water. Do you know that?

WALTON: No. I -- I don't have a report on that. I know they are still actively in the water looking for other vehicles and the search and rescue continues. They have helicopters above the scene that are shining their flood lights down and then the Coast Guard is down there with the boats.

Because of the amount of material itself, I think that's why they are still wondering about the number in terms of the fatalities and also in relationship to whether or not all of the vehicles that may have gone into the water have been accounted for yet.

COOPER: Brad, we appreciate your talking with us. We will check in with you again as the evening progresses. Our coverage is going to continue for at least another two hours live.

There is a lot to talk about in these hours ahead. It is a overwhelming disaster scene. The U.S. Coast Guard is -- tells CNN that between 30 and 50 cars are in the water. The city officials have told us as many as 50 cars were in the water.

Pete Gannon joins me now. He trains rescue divers.

Pete, this is now a recovery rather than a rescue. It has made that terrible transition. At this point what are the divers trying to do in these dark waters?

PETE GANNON, PRESIDENT, DIVE RESCUE INTERNATIONAL: Well, the first problem they are going to have is the contamination. There's a severe contamination problem where you've got gas, you've got oil, you got other body fluids in the water, plus the water itself that's contaminated.

These are the problems that the divers are going to face. At night -- they are used to diving in dark water, so they are not -- that's not going to be a big problem for them. However, the sharp metal of the vehicles, the sharp metal of the bridge, all those obstacles that they are going to face under water is going to make it extremely hazardous.

I was watching one picture of somebody trying to balance dive with a rope tied around them which is pretty extremely dangerous. If the rope gets hung up, they are not going to be able to get back to the surface. So the divers who are trained to do this need to be extremely careful and use good judgment. And I'm sure they are.

We have trained several teams from that area, and they are all excellent divers and excellent team members. And I'm sure they are using the best judgment and being as careful as they can to avoid anything sharp that they are going to get injured on.

The last thing we want to do is injure another diver or another victim or have any more accidents out there on the scene.

COOPER: Literally, you were describing the picture we're looking at now. This young woman who is -- has a rope, essentially -- that's all -- tied to her waist and is just taking a breath of air, diving into the water looking into vehicles. You are saying that is extremely dangerous?

GANNON: Yes, it is. It's extremely dangerous to do that type of dive. If that rope gets caught on something underwater, she might not be able to make it back up. She's got a PFD on, which makes it difficult to get down in the first place. But, you know, We need to be careful about that. She's doing the best she can under the circumstances, but you know, that's what the divers are there for, and they've got a lot of them. You know, departments have to make sure that everybody has their standards and follows their standard operating procedures.

COOPER: Absolutely.

GANNON: A lot of mutual aid comes in. You get a lot of mutual aid from other departments and they have to be scrutinized as to what exactly their skills are. Not all teams have all the same skills.

COOPER: And just in terms of difficult jobs, I can't think of something that's got to be a more difficult and unpleasant task to be, you know, diving under the water under in the dark and opening up a car door and, you know, and what -- what one must see as a diver is just, it's hard to believe.

GANNON: Well, you don't really see much at all, even with lights. They don't really help. The biggest problem you have is everything is dark. The metals, you can see the vehicles are all banged up, so the divers have to actually feel their way around the vehicle, determine if it's upside down, right side up. Is the victim inside? Are they in a seat belt? Not in a seat belt? They are dealing with some currents down there, so they have to worry about, you know, debris floating down river.

They've got a lot of different things to worry about. It's not a matter of what you can see, the public safety divers, they're doing it all by feel. They're actually using their hands to actually feel around and they have to be able to feel for that body. That's what public safety divers do. That's what they train for and that's what they do.

COOPER: In your experience, how long can somebody survive in a car that has been submerged? Do -- is there a window of time?

GANNON: Well, there's that myth that we see a lot in the movies about the air pockets. And in reality, there is no air pocket. It's extremely rare, and that's if the car is not submerged all the way under water. But if the car is submerged under water, there is really not going to be an air pocket in the car. So that kind of myth is gone.

You do have cold water up there. And anything less than 70 degrees, you have up to a one-hour window. And they are trying to extend that to make it 90 minutes to revive somebody that's been under water for 60 to 90 minutes, to resuscitate them without any brain damage, and that's the new goal and the new medical ethics are going that way.

COOPER: And when the -- the number that we are hearing is there are at least some 50 vehicles in this -- in the water. They're fully submerged or partially submerged. How long does it take to actually search, to thoroughly search a vehicle under water?

GANNON: It can take about 15 minutes to search the vehicle. But then you need to search around the vehicle. You know, if the victim was injured and they got out or the victim got out of their car and could not swim, you know, if they can't swim, they can't get to the surface, and they will end up drowning next to their car. So we have to do the cursory search around the vehicle.

COOPER: Is that common that people get out of the vehicle, but then expire in the water?

GANNON: Yes. About 50 percent of the time they may be able to get out of the vehicle, but their injuries preclude them from swimming or getting to safety. And it could be -- in this particular incidence, it looks like there's a straight sea wall, so if they did get out, they'd have to swim somewhere to be able to get out of the water.

So, you know, and maybe bystanders could help, you know, having a throw line that could help just to hold them until the fire department or the police department or sheriff's department arrives on scene.

COOPER: Well, Pete, I appreciate your expertise. You trained a lot of divers, and our hearts go out to all the rescue personnel who are on the scene trying to do the best they can in very difficult circumstances.

It is dark now. There is limited lighting on the scene and there is a lot of debris in the water, a lot of jagged concrete and twisted metal. Very dangerous for divers in the water right now. Pete, explaining some of that.

Appreciate that, Pete.

Just moments ago we found something interesting on the "Star Tribune" Web site, the local newspaper. It was a link to a report from 2001 by the Minnesota Department of Transportation that warns a collapse like what happened today could take place.

Here's what's in this 2001 report. Quote, "Concern about fatigue cracking in the deck truss is heightened by lack of redundancy in the main truss system. Only two planes of the main trusses support the eight lanes of traffic. The truss is determinate and the joints are theoretically pinned. Therefore, if one member were severed by a fatigue crack, that plane of the main truss would theoretically collapse."

Now, we don't know if steps were taken to address those concerns. We're trying to find out more information about that report, which was from 2001.

We do know tonight Governor Powlenty saying the bridge passed inspections in 2005 and 2006, and saying that there were no structural problems on that bridge, no structural deficiencies were reported.

We're going to continue to investigate that and obviously something we'll hear a lot about in the days ahead if it bears any relationship to what occurred today.

The pictures of the school bus on the bridge will no doubt be indelible reminders of what happened. Luckily, those children survived. All the kids on the bus escaped, some 60 children in all.

Tony Wagner joins us now. He's president of the Pillsbury United Communities, a large social services organization in Minneapolis. They organized the trip that the kids were taking.

Mr. Wagner is with us on the phone.

How are the kids tonight?

TONY WAGNER, PILLSBURY UNITED COMMUNITIES: Most of them, I -- I think are with their parents and doing OK. We have about 10 -- 10 people in the hospital yet. And we don't know...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Do you have any sense of their conditions?

WAGNER: Well, the only one I -- I know fairly certain about is our staff person who apparently has a fractured lower back. And my understanding is he's the most seriously injured.

COOPER: Who -- who are the kids? Where were they going?

WAGNER: They're -- they're kids that are part of our lighthouse youth program. And it being a nice hot summer day, they had organized a trip to a local recreational water park and they were returning from that park.

COOPER: And what ages of kids were on the bus?

WAGNER: Roughly five to 14.

COOPER: Wow. It is -- it's remarkable that they were all able to get off.

Do you know -- have you heard any accounts from any of them or from any of the counselors about how they were able to get off the bus?

WAGNER: Well, I spoke to -- at length with one of our part-time youth workers, a young man named Jeremy Hernandez. And he was there and indicated that, you know, there was a lot of panic. There was apparently two -- two stages to the fall. And according to him, it was just chaotic, people screaming, but he managed to get the back door open and was hustling kids and everybody out, handing them to people down below. They were able to apparently walk off the bridge.

COOPER: There was obviously a tractor-trailer to the left of the school bus that was on fire. We had saw -- seen that. The front of the tractor-trailer was on fire. So clearly, a very smart move from Jeremy Hernandez to open that rear door and get -- help get all those kids off.

You say that he talked about sort of two stages to the fall. Did he go into any detail about that?

WAGNER: No. You know, he just said it felt like they -- that they were, you know, falling and it stopped and they fell again. So that's all I know.

COOPER: Tony, I know it's been a terrible day for you. I'm glad that all your kids are safe. We continue to pray for their recovery and some 10 kids in the hospital right now as well as some counselors.

Tony Wagner, thanks for joining us.

There is going to be plenty of sad days ahead. The pictures make that plain. So do the stories which are now coming out from survivors.

Let's listen to some of them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got a call from my fiancee. We were watching a movie back at her house and she said that her cousin was on the phone with her and she said that the -- that the bridge was collapsing she was on and she had to go. And we can't get a hold of her anymore. And we're just trying to find out if she's OK or what's going on, but we are pretty sure she was on the bridge when it was collapsing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There were a lot of kids that were hurt. There was a guy who his car had fallen in. He said his truck was split in half. And he was bloody. His nose was bloody. And he was pretty shaken up. And there were a lot of kids that were, you know, hyperventilating. Bloodied up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was a group of kids that were pulled off and they were crying when we came down. They were just getting pulled out. It just doesn't seem -- I mean, it's a horrible situation and you want to stay out of the cops' way and let them do their job, but at the same point in time you want to find out is the person that I care about all right? I mean, are they hurt? Are they -- I'd be happy just to know she's hurt right now because that way I'd know she's alive and they know where she's at. But...

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Just some of the eyewitnesses, some of the people who were on the bridge or near the area.

More now on the bridge in question. The construction, the lane closures and anything else that engineers will be looking at as they try to figure out exactly what caused that.

360s Tom Foreman is trying to look into that right now. He joins me now.

Tom, what have you found out?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, let's just get a sense of what we're talking about in the pressure on this bridge to begin with.

Here we have the state here, with Minneapolis right here. We'll zoom in a little bit and show you about the pressure on the bridge. About 200,000 people a day using this bridge to go back and forth. A lot of it traffic between Minneapolis over on this side and St. Paul over here. You have the university area here. You just saw the Metrodome where the Twins play over here.

So this is a heavily traveled area. But here's an important thing to consider in all of this. Several of the eyewitnesses tonight have talked about a two or three-stage collapse where they have said they had one part of the bridge collapse, then the next part, and then the next part.

That's going to be important as they try to piece together what happened because you may have seen in that image just a moment before, right above this bridge is a dam with a lot of water flowing from that dam by the base of the bridge.

Well, there was a study by the American Society of Civil Engineers just a few years ago of more than 500 failures of bridges over the past -- in the 1990s, roughly, and more than half of them were caused by a significant erosion around the pilings and on the bases of these bridges that weakened the bridges in some fashion. They haven't had...

COOPER: Tom, I have to jump in here.

FOREMAN: OK.

COOPER: There's a press conference about to go on. Let's go to that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... know that there was at least 50 vehicles. Probably much more than that on the bridge at the time of the collapse.

We transported over 60 people to area hospitals. That number we expect to go up. At this point we have seven confirmed fatalities, and we expect that number to go up as well.

Right now, on the scene, we have ceased river operations for the evening. It's too dark. There's too much debris in the river to continue in the river tonight. We will at first light be back in the river working again. And that is several agencies, the fire department, the sheriff's department, and other agencies with river assets and divers.

We are continuing some operations on the bridge itself. There again, we are winding those down. We have moved from a rescue mode just in the last several minutes to a recovery mode, which means we're going to be very careful not to hurt any rescuers or any other people working at the site and we are going to continue to operate in that mode through the evening and through the day tomorrow.

With that, I'm going to pass it to Chief Livenski.

SHARON LIVENSKI (ph), ASSISTANT CHIEF, MINNEAPOLIS POLICE DEPARTMENT: I'm Sharon Livenski (ph), assistant chief of Minneapolis Police Department.

First of all, we are working hand in hand with our partners from the fire department on this incident. And we also have a number of partners from other law enforcement agencies in the state and the county helping us and we appreciate that.

Two things I want to mention is that for those who are wondering about friends or relatives, we have a gathering at the Holiday Inn Metrodome for those who are looking for information on possible survivors or someone involved in this incident, and we have put that information out.

The second thing looks forward to tomorrow morning in terms of coming in and going out of downtown Minneapolis. We are working on a transportation plan right now that will assure access into and out of downtown Minneapolis for tomorrow.

We will be posting that on the city of Minneapolis Web site along with other information that we are providing like the Red Cross number for either out state relatives of possible people involved. So please look at the city of Minneapolis Web site.

We encourage anyone who is going to be coming into downtown Minneapolis tomorrow to absolutely avoid the area. Be considerate of those who were involved in this incident. Be considerate of rescuers that are going to be at the scene tomorrow. And also, just please take your time, use patience, and be considerate of everyone there.

TED KANOEVA (ph), TWIN CITIES RED CROSS: Good evening. I'm Ted Kanoeva (ph) with the Twin Cities Red Cross.

Our hearts go out to everybody affected by this tragedy. We were able to watch firsthand the heroism, but also the cooperation and the partnership of a lot of agencies in the Twin Cities tonight.

I think people at home should be proud of the response that folks around me and the people who report to them turned in tonight and are still turning in.

The Twin Cities Red Cross fortunately had a plan. We were ready. We housed the 60 kids from the school bus and gave them comfort in the immediate moments after the emergency. We gave them mental health counseling when they needed it. We passed on maybe a dozen of 60 kids to the hospital. And we were there waiting as families came down to the Twin Cities Red Cross chapter headquarters at a time where the families were reunited with at least 40 or 45 kids.

As I say we were ready, our blood supply is in good shape, but it's only because people have donated in the past and I don't think that the Twin Cities community should take this lightly.

While we may be ready in that regard, we always need to collect for the next one. And we are being inundated at the Twin Cities Red Cross from everybody asking what can they do, which isn't unusual in an emergency like this.

The generosity of the Twin Cities is second to none, we all know. And I just wanted to give some information in case people had the inkling to contribute in some way. To donate blood or to donate money, they can go to our Web site, which is RedCrossTC.org or they can call our donation hotline, which is 612-460-3700.

Again, it's with heavy hearts that we even share this information, but the better we're prepared, the better we can serve the public in times like this. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you touch on that telephone number for family members to call?

KANOEVA (ph): Yes. Again, we wanted to streamline the information, the places to call. The city of Minneapolis Web site is a great clearing house. The Twin Cities Red Cross Web site also will have all the information for folks to call.

Our home page is being updated every 10 minutes, so it's got the latest information for folks, whether you have a loved one involved in this tragedy or just need other information.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chief, can you tell me a little bit about what that recovery effort will entail tomorrow morning at first light?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, when we move from a rescue to recovery mode, we want to search every void space.

When you have a collapse of freeway spans like this, there's a lot of void spaces that are hard to get into and we don't want to get into those spaces until it's safe to do so.

So what that means is we'll be slowly, along with engineers, structural engineers letting us know when it's safe and where it's safe to go to get into those void spaces and make sure that we've looked everywhere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) at this point still too early to tell what happened. Is there any inkling as to what -- how this happened?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. I think what's going to happen -- I know what's going to happen starting tomorrow is federal, state and city experts are going to be looking at this span of bridge to make that determination.

It's way too early for us to speculate. It is a total collapse of a significant section of the freeway. And so there was something went wrong and we are going to get to the bottom of what happened. We just don't know yet tonight what that was.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What -- what is the likelihood you'd be able to locate any more survivors at this hour?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The likelihood goes down. At this point we have been where we think survivors could be so far. It is possible that throughout the night and tomorrow we may locate somebody else that is a survivor, but the likelihood is getting fairly slim.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is going on as far as checks of other bridges at this hour?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just actually talked with the public works director for Minneapolis, and that is a concern, especially downriver when you have a collapse like this. Some of the material will float downriver. And so they are looking at bridges downriver to make sure that the peers and those things are safe for operations. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Chief Livenski (ph), can you give us an idea of how you basically reached the conclusions that it does not appear to be terrorism at this point? Are there certain things that you'd expect to see right away that you didn't see that would get you to this point?

LIVENSKI (ph): Sure. I think we -- I mean, we had our own Homeland Security people on scene almost -- almost immediately. And we are in contact with other agencies who, along with Chief Clack are doing an examination of some of those bridges.

So we had no indication that anything like that was involved, but we are also double checking and triple checking to make sure.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So it appears to be a structural problem?

LIVENSKI (ph): As -- as best we can tell. But it's way too early to say.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any update on construction workers, how many there were and how many have been accounted for?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We actually don't know that yet. What we do know is the numbers I gave you earlier, we have seven fatalities. And we know that we've transported over 60 people to area hospitals, to the University of Minnesota hospital, Hennepin County Medical Center and North Memorial. And we don't have any information on the condition of those people. We are going to have to leave it to the hospitals to get you that.

As far as how many construction workers or even how many cars were on those spans, we just don't know that yet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was the number 50 that was thrown out earlier before? The number of cars that...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Correct. We -- we estimated that from the top, from the command center, we could see 50 vehicles. It wasn't all cars. There were some other types of vehicles. There was a semi truck -- at least one semi truck, a bus, some panel trucks. Different kinds of vehicles. It wasn't all cars. That's what we could see.

We have a feeling that there's several more vehicles in the river that we haven't found yet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) 50 on the bridge after the collapse?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's an estimate. We haven't made a physical count of them.

I do want to...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was some -- there was some concrete work being done. Have you been able to rule out that the work that was kind of superficial? (UNINTELLIGIBLE) involve the structure? That did not cause this collapse?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't know that.

There was construction repair work being done on this span of the freeway, and that had just begun a few weeks ago, and was scheduled to continue throughout the summer. We don't know if that had a contributing factor to this collapse or not. It's just way too early to tell.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They had mentioned some joint work. I'm not sure if that's been superficial or...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I can't tell you. I'm not an engineer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were all lanes open at the time of the collapse?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. There was two lanes open in each direction. The outside lane and going both ways was blocked off for construction.

I do want to say that we had a great response from our mutual aid partners and our emergency operations plan here in Minneapolis, which we have exercised numerous times, came in very handy and worked really well tonight.

I think that I'm -- I'm very proud of my folks and all of the other agencies that have worked on this event so far. It's went very, very well. Better than any other large scale emergency I've been involved with. And so I think citizens should take comfort in knowing that here in Minneapolis in the metro area we do have good plans in place and when things like this happen, we step up and it's really been successful so far.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you talk more about how treacherous it is for the rescue workers to get down there and in all these spots and how uncertain the place is at this point?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. We have several what we call technical rescue teams that are specially trained in building collapse and in this kind of emergency. And those folks have the training and the tools to safely enter areas along with structural engineers.

We are always looking for professionals to give us an opinion on whether a space is safe to enter. So those technical rescue people are still operating on-site.

Most of our structural fire fighters, the less trained fire fighters are either in staging or have actually left the scene because there's not a lot of work to do anymore outside of these void spaces.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One more question about the construction. I know you say you are not an engineer. But looking at how much work has been done on that bridge this summer, is -- is there any indication that that work over the months that we've seen would have led to structural -- (UNINTELLIGIBLE) problems with the bridge?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't tell you. I don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you consider postponing the (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I -- I don't have the information about the game tomorrow. I did hear in the center that it had been canceled.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tonight's game (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tonight's game, from what I understand, is still going on.

We do have evacuation routes, and maybe I'll let Chief Livenski (ph) talk about after the game.

LIVENSKI (ph): We -- for the Twins game tonight, we were in communication with Metrodome personnel and provided some routes for the folks to leave that would really get them out of town and not hinder with any of the perimeter for the scene itself.

So that's been communicated with the Metrodome. I fully expect that to go well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When will the alternate routes be available on the Web, tonight or tomorrow?

LIVENSKI (ph): We don't -- we don't know at this point. It'll be -- I would say check -- for those listening and watching, check the city of Minneapolis Web site as early as you can tomorrow morning. And again, just encourage folks to take their time. Spend a little time trying to get in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you please give that Web address (UNINTELLIGIBLE) watching right now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The city of Minneapolis Web site is www.ci.minneapolis.mm.us. And I would check in the morning, not this evening. We will have that information as soon as we have it available.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those who have been injured and transported, do you know where they've been found? Are they -- most of these people been on the bridge, under the bridge, in cars, swept downstream, any indication? Do you know an idea kind of where they've been found -- rescued?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most of the people that we rescued from the scene were rescued in the first hour. And they were on top of the bridge or else away from the bridge, away, they had self-evacuated.

So those people -- we had to put up ladders to get to certain sections of this bridge because it had collapsed in such a way that it was hard to get to. But most of those victims came off the top of the bridge. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How about in the water? How many were in the water?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know how many actually were pulled from the water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chief, is there any way to look at this and guess just how long (UNINTELLIGIBLE) take to deal with this catastrophe?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it depends on what phase of it you're talking about. I would say that within the next day or two we will have rapped up our part of it -- the fire department's part. And then there will be several months, I would imagine, of investigations.

It's going to be a while before that section of bridge is rebuilt. I would say, you know, again, I'm not an engineer, but just knowing, traveling around and watching construction, that's probably going to be a couple years before that section of bridge is back up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have any idea how many rescuers were down there pulling people and rescuing people and from what departments and about how far did people come to help?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I saw vehicles -- fire vehicles and police vehicles from all over the Twin Cities area within an hour after this incident, which was our mutual aid partners. They were there for us right away.

Minneapolis fire has 26 fire trucks. We had 22 of them at that scene within 45 minutes. Most of them within the first 15 minutes. We always keep a few back. There's always an impulse, every firefighter wants to be there, but we do have other things that happen in the city. Even when there's an event of this scope, we have to remember that there's, you know, 400,000 people in this city that need service as well.

But there was tremendous response from our mutual aid partners, and it was very well coordinated, which is unusual for an event this size.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you remember anything (UNINTELLIGIBLE) this large that (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not in Minneapolis. And at least recently. I have been here 21 years and we haven't had any event this large in this city.

I was down in Katrina in New Orleans, and of course, that was a huge scope event. But for us, this is a big deal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have one more phone number.

KANOEVA (ph): I just wanted to also let you know there is one phone number for families and victims and it is the Red Cross general phone number, and that's 612-871-7676. We have people standing by answering the phones, so be patient, and if you need information just about family and victims and things like that, there will be some comforting people on the other end of that line.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) more updates?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not any more.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I -- I suspect that we probably will not -- may have more information that (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. So this will be it for tonight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just two other question, you don't mind...

COOPER: You've been listening to Jim Clark, the Minneapolis fire chief, as well as others from the Red Cross talking.

The latest information, the sad death toll has increased now, seven confirmed fatalities. And according to the chief of the fire department, that number is expected to rise.

They have at this point stopped river operations. The video you are seeing right now was taken earlier while there was still light. It is simply too dangerous to keep having people, divers go into the water. There's a lot of debris in the water, a lot of twisted steel and metal and concrete. It is simply too dangerous. They are going to resume that at daylight, they said.

Some operations are continuing on the bridge or parts of the bridge, but they are winding those operations down.

Again, there are serious structural questions that remain about the integrity of what remains of this bridge.

We talked to the city manager -- the city emergency management office earlier who talked about they had engineers from the Army Corps of Engineers as well as from the city and the state who were examining parts of the bridge in order for rescue workers to be able to go back onto the bridge. But at this point they say they are going to be winding down those operations.

They want very hard to make sure they do not hurt any of the rescue workers. At this point they still need to search what they call the void spaces where the bridges -- one bridge -- part of the bridge has collapsed on another part of the bridge. It is very difficult to do that at night and the conditions they are now facing.

And Jim Clark, the fire chief, says that the likelihood is getting fairly slim of finding any more survivors.

Dave Peters now is joining us. He is the news editor with Internet Broadcasting. He joins us now from the scene.

Dave, it is dark there. It is hard to see. What are you seeing? DAVE PETERS, NEWS EDITOR, INTERNET BROADCASTING: Well, right now, yes, it's dark, so it's tough to see what's down there anymore. There are a lot of bright lights where workers are still at the scene.

I'm up river from the scene right now about a half a mile. Police have shooed people back. There are a lot of bridges over the Mississippi through Minneapolis, and there were literally thousands of people standing out on them trying to see, get a better idea of what was happening, lots of ambulances going in and out for quite some time.

COOPER: Have you talked to people who were on the bridge when it fell?

PETERS: No, I haven't. I was on my way -- I live about two blocks from where the bridge collapsed -- and I was on my way from work heading toward that bridge. And got here about, I suppose an hour through traffic after it happened.

COOPER: And the point that you got there, what did you witness?

PETERS: Well, by that time all the traffic had been shut off. There were emergency vehicles descending on the scene. Lots and lots of people around.

I mean, one of the reasons this is -- aside from the tragedy -- one of the reasons this is such a huge deal here is this is in the heart of Minneapolis. There are a lot of bridges over the Mississippi, but this was the biggest one of all. Thousands and thousands of cars every day. Everybody commutes on this. This is the main thoroughfare from Duluth to Texas, and it's just a huge hole right in the middle of the Minneapolis.

It's the historic part of the town connecting near where the University of Minnesota is with downtown, the Metrodome and the central downtown, so it's a huge gaping absence now. You look down the river and see nothing where that massive single arch deck was is stunning.

COOPER: Dave Peters, appreciate you joining us from the scene.

Ian Punnett is joining us as well. He's with FM-107. He's been with us for much of these last hour and a half or two hours or so.

Ian, what are you seeing in the location you are at now? Where are you now?

PUNNETT: Anderson, I'm actually in the lobby of the Holiday Inn Metrodome where they are taking the families of people who are concerned about loved ones.

You may have heard there's no real central number to call to find out what are the license plate numbers of the cars that are submerged or even details about what those cars are. And so they have set up a location here where the families can gather if they are concerned about people who are missing or here in the lobby -- and just minutes ago some family members walked past, they said they weren't talking yet to the media and they are setting up facilities right now to welcome any more over from the collapsed scene to the Holiday Inn.

COOPER: Ian, we should point out the Red Cross just put out a telephone number for families or victims or people who are concerned one way or the other. That number is 612-871-7676. That's 612-871- 7676.

About how many people now have gathered at the place you are?

PUNNETT: Well, it's just dozens. But if I can go back to that just for a second. That number -- it's terrific that they're dong this, to offer the support and the Red Cross is wonderful in these cases.

I was working with a woman just a couple hours ago, Anderson, whose daughter travels over that span of bridge every single day, and there was no number to call to find out what the cars were, did anybody know what the cars were that went in. Her daughter had been not in contact for several hours. Mom had contacted me and asked if I could look for the color of the roof of her car, if we can find out anything about any of the cars that are in the water, called back to her, and was able to find that she did, in fact, get in touch with her daughter and that was a day that she didn't travel the bridge today, that today was a day off, and so she didn't drive as she usually does right about that time on the 35W bridge.

COOPER: It's got to be such a horrific night for so many families in that area just waiting for news of their loved ones. Made worse by the fact that -- made more difficult by the fact that cell phones were down in that area or -- is cell phone coverage now back up?

PUNNETT: Well, cell phone coverage became sporadic a little while ago. They were just asking people to stay off of them. I think that took a lot of the pressure off of it. The cell phone coverage was next to nothing there for quite a while as everybody was trying to access it at once.

I will just tell you again here in the lobby of the Metrodome, we are just standing here. I was just looking at a sign that's listed for chaplains services that they are setting up if anybody needs a chaplain down the hallway in one of the ballrooms on the main floor of the Holiday Inn Metrodome, the families are gathering for whatever it is they need, if they drinks and food and just trying to be with them at this time.

COOPER: What -- how long were you at the scene, and what was the -- when you left the scene, what was the status? Because the report we have just gotten is that they have stopped, they have pulled divers out of the water. And they are winding down any operations on the bridge. Conditions simply too dangerous at this point?

PUNNETT: I was at the scene for several hours -- two or three hours before I left and attempted to go to the other side and see if I could get a better vantage point. The canine units couldn't -- came back around here to the Holiday Inn Metrodome and in doing so, I crossed over another bridge that crosses over the Mississippi and I was on hold with you at the time you were talking with the structural engineer about the problems with the bridges. And let me tell what you that was like when crossing over the bridge looking up at that very eerie scene with the lighting that's insufficient for what's there. You can see some of it, but it's -- you just know that there's so much more tragedy that's yet to be revealed.

And as I was crossing over that bridge, all I kept thinking is I just really want to get to the other side as the engineer was talking about potential problems along the Mississippi.

COOPER: Ian, no doubt it's going to be a long night for you. Are you going to be staying at this location?

PUNNETT: I am and I will be looking for in particular for a couple of families that some local listeners of FM-107 who reached out to me to try to find. So I'm -- right there I'm doing that and I will continue to do anything else I can for you and CNN.

COOPER: Well, the mayor, Mayor Rybak said earlier this will be a tragic night before it is over. It is going to be many dark hours tonight for the families who are still waiting for some sort of word, some sort of information.

How organized is the effort at this point that you're seeing yourself?

PUNNETT: Oh, it's amazing. And you know what? I heard earlier the Red Cross comment on how terrific the Twin Cities are in a tragedy like this, and this is just what we are seeing, so many services, everybody doing -- seemingly working in a fabulously coordinated manner when there is no real, you know, playbook for this, per se.

I mean, they can rehearse and you can talk about it in theory, but when it happens, it really comes down to everybody is pulled off of every shift. Every police officer I talked to was actually either had a day off or was done for the day and had just come in on their own time. And everybody is doing everything they can to make this the aftermath of the tragedy as helpful to the families and as easy on the rescue workers as possible.

COOPER: Well, you know, you think about those rescue workers who have now been working long hours in difficult conditions submerged underwater. We saw -- we've seen those images of that woman with nothing but a rope tied around her waist doing whatever she can to try to find somebody in vehicles that are submerged. It is remarkable work that they are doing. It is difficult and very dangerous work, and certainly our hats go off to them. Many long hours still ahead throughout this evening.

Another one of our I-Reporters, Steve Dvorak, he got to -- got to the scene about 15 minutes after the bridge came down. He captured the aftermath on video. He joins us now on the phone with us. Tell us about what you first saw when you got there.

STEVE DWORAK, WITNESS (on the phone): Yes. I arrived probably about 15 minutes after it happened, and I was on the shore of the Mississippi, and I was probably one of the few guys to come up there really relatively early.

I had saw about five police officers pull an individual out of the water and perform CPR on the individual for about 15 minutes or so. It didn't look like the person made it, unfortunately. And then about -- while I was sitting there, there was a distressed individual who was swimming in the water while the police tried to get him out of the water and he was searching for his daughter and he's screaming, I think she went downstream. Check farther down. And he's running around asking people if they saw a little girl between I think around the age of eight or so with red hair and glasses and stuff. Just completely distressed in the whole situation.

COOPER: Steve, how long did you stay on the scene? The pictures we are seeing right now -- you took this with, what, your cell phone camera?

DWORAK: Yes. I have a cell phone camera that's also a video camera so I was on the scene for a good two hours. As the time went by, they had moved, the police had -- did crowd control. So when I got there it was really early so they weren't doing crowd control at the time because they were trying to help as many people as they could.

So I was there probably about 50 feet from the scene and then they started getting more and more boats. There were dozens of boats looking for people in the water, pulling people from the water and bringing them on shore.

And then as time went by, the police did a crowd control and they moved people farther and farther back until after two hours I was so far back that I just decided to go home to my apartment.

COOPER: And the bridge that we are seeing here, I mean, it looks like it's just jackknifed almost vertical.

DWORAK: It was extremely vertical. There are pictures also that I had took that the cars were halfway up or all the way at the top and it was straight up. I -- it's something -- I was telling my mom, it was something I felt like from a movie. It didn't even, you know, make sense. It's unreal.

COOPER: It is certainly unreal and sadly all too real.

Steve Dworak, we appreciate you sending us this I-report video. One of our I-reporters. Stick around, Steve. We'll talk to you a little later on.

More now on the bus that went down on the bridge remarkably without any fatalities. Nina Jenkins was on the bus. We are going to try to talk to her in just a little bit. Sixty children were on that bus. Sixty children and some counselors. All of them safely got off the bus, taken through the rear door.

There was a tractor-trailer on fire in front of the bus. Clearly visible, no doubt, from the bus windows.

All those 60 kids were brought to safety. Some 10 people from that bus ended up in local area hospitals.

We talked earlier to Josh (sic) Wagner, the man who actually had sponsored the bus trip that day. He obviously very thankful that everyone got out of that bus safely. It certainly could have been much worse as you see it.

Nina Jenkins was on the bus. She is just 12 years old. She joins us now.

Nina, how are you doing?

NINA JENKINS, SURVIVOR (on the phone): I'm doing good.

COOPER: What happened today? What did you see?

JENKINS: I didn't really see nothing, but it was like more the feeling because it was kind of -- because it started off kind of like a little rocky. And then it kind of -- the bus kind of like went up and then -- because like, it just like went up and then it just dropped. Because we went with the bridge, as you can see on CNN. It was like the bus went with the bridge. (UNINTELLIGIBLE). A lot of little kids got hurt and...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: So at first the bus seemed to go up?

JENKINS: Huh?

COOPER: The bus went up first?

JENKINS: It was like a little crack, I guess, so the bus kind of went up and then it went down.

COOPER: How far did it go down?

JENKINS: Like I could say about, like -- I don't -- it was like a really big drop though. It was like really big.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: What did you -- what did you think was happening?

JENKINS: Huh?

COOPER: What did you think was happening? JENKINS: I felt like -- because it really felt like it was like the bus was trying to like -- because then the bus driver, Kim (ph), it was like, like the bus -- because she -- the bus driver felt like it was shaking, like it was in the brakes. So then I think what happened is she kind of went a little fast so that she can like try to get, like, over the bridge. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) happened and then it cracked, so it kind of went down.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: And then how did you get off the bus?

JENKINS: Huh?

COOPER: How did you get off the bus?

JENKINS: Oh, this man named Jeremy Hernandez, he -- because I think he like first saw it, like what happened. So then he -- he bust open the back door of the bus, and then he was telling all of the -- everybody to get out from the back of the door, and then we jumped into the little -- the highway and then we jumped off from the highway onto the sidewalk and then neighbors were helping us trying to get out.

COOPER: It must have been very scary for you.

JENKINS: Yes. It was scary. It was terrifying.

COOPER: It was terrifying?

JENKINS: It was sad because there a lot of little kids got hurt. But it was lucky because everybody survived from it. So that was kind of good.

COOPER: Nina, could I talk to your mom?

JENKINS: Hmm?

COOPER: Can I talk to your mom?

KRISTY JENKINS, SURVIVOR'S MOM: Hello?

COOPER: Hi, Kristi?

K. JENKINS: Uh-huh?

COOPER: Hey, I just -- this is Anderson Cooper. How are you doing today?

K. JENKINS: Oh, I'm doing -- I'm doing OK. How are you?

COOPER: I'm fine. You're on the air right now. You must have been terrified when you -- how did you hear about this?

K. JENKINS: Nina called me. I was sitting at my desk and she called me on somebody's cell phone to tell me the Mississippi bridge broke, and I'm like, it broke? She said yes, Mom, it broke in half. I said where are you? She said we are on the side at the Red Cross and then she had to go because other people was tying to call, so I just sat there to try to figure out what to do next. And so then somebody else called me and asked if I wanted to ride down there to where the children were so I could find out what happened, to see what the situation was. But he already left, so I got my keys and my purse and I rushed out to the wait center. That's where the children be at when they are gone for the summer program.

And I rushed down there and people were telling me that the children were at the Red Cross getting checked, and someone was going to bring them back to the wait center, so basically I just waited there to find out if she was OK.

And while I was there, somebody was telling me that the bus driver was trying to get off the bridge, but it wouldn't work so she had to put on brakes, so a young man named Jeremy -- in fact, I know Jeremy. Jeremy kicked out the back door and was helping all the children -- children get off because, you know, they didn't really have a lot of time. So all the children -- people were helping the children get off.

And Nina was one of those children who got hurt, well, her foot got hurt, and just got them to the side, and the staff was just trying to keep the children away from the media and get them back to the Red Cross because they didn't want the children to see the other cars as they tumbled into the Mississippi River, you know?

COOPER: Have you -- have you seen the pictures now of the bridge and the bus?

K. JENKINS: Yes. I've seen the pictures. I also seen the school bus. And I don't know if -- I don't know if you were around in 1980s when the Skyway Bridge broke. I mean, when somebody ran into that bridge in Tampa?

COOPER: Uh-huh.

K. JENKINS: And when that barge hit that bridge and that bridge broke in half and all those cars, that's what I thought about when this happened to this bridge.

COOPER: Well, have you talked to any other parents? Do you know -- I know there is about 10 people who went to the hospital from that bus. Have you heard if they are all doing OK?

(CROSSTALK)

K. JENKINS: Well, Julie, I'm not for sure. I know her. She's a friend. Anna, I know -- I don't know her parents. I know of her. She was pretty bad. And from the people that I know, a lot of these people are like Spanish so I don't speak Spanish a lot, so from the ones that I know, one of the parents, the sisters was really upset because her -- that was her little sister so I told them not to worry, things would be all right.

But I couldn't communicate to too many of the parents because a lot of them were Spanish speaking people.

COOPER: And how is Nina doing? She seemed OK when I talked to her. But how is she doing?

K. JENKINS: Well, she's OK. I'm sorry. And we are sitting here still discussing the incident, so I can tell her it was just a bad accident and if it wasn't for Jeremy, it would have probably turned out differently, so we need to thank him and all the other people who helped with the children and, you know, just thank God that it didn't turn out -- for the children. I know it turned out bad for other people, but I don't know what else to say. It's just a bad accident.

COOPER: As you said, it sounds like if it wasn't for Jeremy Hernandez who had the presence of mind to...

K. JENKINS: I think if it wasn't for his quick thinking, I think a lot of Nina and perhaps other people, other children on that bus, might -- we might be experiencing something different right now, so I've got to -- I know who he is. And I've got to thank him because it was just his quick thinking. I don't know what he was thinking, but it must have been something really good because he got that door open and got those kids off of there before, you know, it could have turned deadly.

COOPER: And you say Nina -- Nina's foot hurts or is it OK?

K. JENKINS: Yes. It's sprained and I gave her some Motrin and she's laying down now. And I'm going to watch her for a few days because you know how things happen -- come up next couple of days, so, yes, so other than that, she -- she's OK.

COOPER: Well, Kristy, I'm glad to hear that she's doing OK, and I appreciate you letting us talk to her and talking to you, and I know, no doubt, you will be saying a prayer tonight for all those other families out there still waiting for news about --

(CROSSTALK)

K. JENKINS: Oh, yes. We definitely will.

COOPER: About their loved ones. And I'm sure a lot of our viewers will join you in that.

Kristy, thanks very much. Stay -- stay well and stay by Nina's side. No doubt she'll need your company tonight.

There is still a lot to be reported on, a lot of information we are still gathering at this point. We are going to continue live for the next hour -- at the very least our coverage for the next hour.

I want to bring you up to date on exactly what we know at this point. Right now there are seven people confirmed who have died in the Minnesota bridge collapse.

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