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'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for August 1

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guests: Glenn Corbett, John Brewer

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening.  This is what remains of the 35 W Bridge in Minneapolis, across the Mississippi River, which has tonight collapsed in dramatic, disastrous, and evidently tragic fashion. 

Pictures that truly speak for themselves of wreckage, of cars still were they stood when this bridge fell into the Mississippi River at the height of rush hour, 6:05 p.m. central time, local time in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, sending dozens of cars, trucks, school buses even, plummeting 30 to 40 feet into the river below as a sequence of collapses knocked down the entirety of this extraordinarily long bridge.

No number yet on injuries nor on fatalities, although fatalities are presumed and injuries have already been seen as survivors, have been walked up from the river bank to waiting ambulances and treatment. 

This may or may not—it has not yet been concerned—this may or may not have resulted from construction taking place on the bridge.  Eyewitness accounts of some construction crews doing some kind of work as this bridge collapsed.  One eyewitness telling local reporters there that he felt a jack hammering sensation just before the bridge collapsed as you see. 

Eyewitness accounts also include that traffic was bumper-to-bumper status at the time of the collapse.  That same witness who heard the jack hammering, who sensed the collapse beneath him, suggested that at least 100 vehicles were on the bridge at the time of the collapse. 

As you can see, if the nature of what that bridge has become reminds you of anything, it may hearken back to the kind of large-scale collapse of an elevated roadway that we have not seen in this country since the Nimitz Freeway in Oakland in 1989 after the San Francisco earthquake there in October of that year. 

But as you see from the image right there of people walking, presumably rescue crews walking on the left side of your screen towards some of the abandoned vehicles.  Huge portions of this bridge—although they dropped as much as 30 or 40 feet into a river with huge traffic, heavy traffic on them, they seem to have remained intact.  They look almost like islands now, artificial reefs stuck in the middle of the Mississippi river.  That may portend well for the possibility of survivors or the percentage of survivors in this extraordinary bridge collapse. 

All ambulances in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Twin City region have been called to the scene, obviously, with good cause.  There has not been, from the eyewitness accounts, thus far, anyway, reports of major numbers of deceased being removed from the area.   There are, obviously—there have been people walking people out of the area.  There are survivors of this accident.  And we presume it is an accident.  There is no indication that it is anything else tonight.  There have been survivors walked and walked away from this scene on foot, able to get there without much assistance, which is an extraordinary of itself. 

But amidst that debris and awful wreckage, we also see, as you can see clearly many cars that are only partially submerged.  Many cars that seemed to have been spared, being fully engulfed by the waters of the Mississippi.  So as unbelievably destructive as this looks—and again, that 1989 Nimitz collapse in Oakland after the San Francisco earthquake of October 1989, had this same kind feel to it.  Obviously, in that case, there were two structures.  It was a double-decked highway and those beneath, those on the lower level of that highway had the most ill fortune an imaginable.  And the survivor rate was very poor there.  There is no structure underneath this, for the most part, of this structure. 

Again, 35 W crossing the Mississippi from Minneapolis proper, going to the University of Minnesota area, if I remember my geography correctly about the Twin Cities.

There was only one or two roadways directly underneath this bridge.  Most of this bridge, as long as it was, and we are talking what might be one quarter of a mile to a half miles long structure in it‘s entirely, most of it cross water. 

And as we‘re seeing here in these tight shots from our affiliate, KARE, in Minneapolis, large portions of this bridge have collapsed, almost intact, providing some sort of surface for rescuers to work from for survivors to have survived upon. 

Obviously, every driver‘s nightmare occurring tonight over the Mississippi River.  This massive stretch of a Minneapolis freeway bridge, part of Interstate Highway 35, the 35 W Bridge collapsing on the highways below, but mostly into the Mississippi itself, just after 6:00 p.m. local time, central time.  The estimate was 6:05.

We do not know how many cars, how many trucks, how many bicyclists—and there were bicycles on the bridge according to eyewitnesses—or pedestrians who were on this bridge may have been killed, crushed, injured, tossed into the river, possibly drowned, all of the nightmares of accident and disaster rolled into one almost.  There was fire for a time.  You are not seeing that right now.  That was extinguished relatively quickly.  Black smoke came from the scene as you would expect in the immediate minutes after this disaster, which occurred roughly an hour ago in Minneapolis.

Workers had been repairing the bridge surface and one witness told a local news outlets that the bridge to seem to be shaking from a jack hammer.  We have no firm indications of the cause of the collapse at this time.  We do know one truck caught fire after the bridge collapsed.  We do know a school bus was on the bridge at the time, plummeting right next to the burning truck.  Witnesses reported that there appeared to be a number of injuries on that school bus, but it may be the case—again, may be the case that all of the kids got off safely, or at least a large percentage of them did. 

Again, witnesses reported that as the bridge collapsed an hour ago in Minneapolis, 35 W, it was packed bumper-to-bumper, rush-hour traffic, late rush-hour traffic, 6:00 local time.

Police told a local news operation that as many as 50 vehicles were certainly involved on the bridge at the time.  You see many of them exactly where they have been for the last hour since the place collapse.  An unknown number of people remain stranded on parts of the bridge after it landed in the Mississippi, or on sections that were hanging, suspended from the twisted infrastructure. 

Minneapolis—we know that for sure.  We believe it‘s also for St.  Paul, its Twin City, has dispatched every single ambulance in the city to the scene. 

The interstate 35 W Bridge that the Minnesota Department of Transportation has been working on all summer, we are now hearing, was the area of this collapse.  The entire span came down.  Traffic in both directions affected.  Firefighters, other rescue personnel, are having a hard time.  You see them trickling into the area, but they had a hard time initially reaching all of the injured because of the debris and the location of the collapse. 

The bridges were there because it is not an easy place to get around on vehicle or on foot. 

There is already a full emergency mode at the area‘s major hospitals. 

A reporter from the local station KARE said ambulances have begun arriving.  You have seen some of them in these live pictures, taken from a helicopter from above the scene as we speak.

It has been declared by the hospital, the main hospital, HCMC, as an emergency situation, as a disaster.  That means other hospitals in the area will be dedicating resources to help the main hospital involved. 

There, beneath what you can see of the roadway, there are cars crushed underneath the debris.  Some, who survived the fall were seen swimming away from the scene in the Mississippi river. 

At least one vehicle, which is believed to be a tractor-trailer truck, was on fire.  That would explain the origin of the black smoke.  It has since been largely put out, although, we are seeing some smoke.  And there are fire efforts—there is a firefighter in the right of center of your screen, hosing down what looks like the exact truck we are talking about. 

The school bus you are seeing—I believe that‘s it.  Is that the school bus next to it that we have been talking about? 

We are hearing that our earlier estimations and hopes about the kids on the school bus are, indeed, correct, that all of them got off the bus alive.  Obviously, many of them injured and to what degree, we cannot possibly know at this hour.  But according to local television reports in Minneapolis and St. Paul, the kids on that bus going through this rush-hour nightmare in the Twin City survived. 

Pieces of the bridge are on a parkway below.  You can see right there as well, just below where the school bus here, that horizontal line in your picture is a parkway.  How many cars might have been underneath that is left to conjecture at this point. 

Bumper-to-bumper traffic again, road construction had slowed things down, meaning there might have been more vehicles on the bridge than should have been expected at that hour.  As eyewitnesses have described, all of a sudden, the bridge collapsed at about 6:00, 6:05.  We‘ll fix the time when we can get it to you.

A motorist told another local reporter that there was shaking.  He thought it was from jack hammer work.  Then the bridge, in his words, “simply dropped.”  And again, this was the witness who told us—you‘re seeing what this scene looked like until 6:05 central, 7:05 eastern time tonight and the extraordinary difference as fires still burn from the sight of the collapse.  That fire and that new black smoke is ominous, to say the least.  It may be something that has broken out recent.

The word now about the work that was being done on the bridge, which witnesses have reports seeing and many of the vehicles, in fact, that fell with the bridge, perhaps those that fell into the river, were involved with a resurfacing project.  Bridge construction, bridge integrity is an extraordinary thing.  There have been examples in our nation‘s history of bridges literally being brought down crashing into rivers below.  A famous example from Washington State in 1940 of a bridge that was not properly supported and got caught in the wind.  That set up a series of almost seismic waves through the bridge surface, which is an extraordinary—for anybody who has ever been across a bridge, which would be all us.  It would be an extraordinary thing to think about this. 

But a bridge service is extremely flexible.  That has to be to be to withstand wind and other elements. 

As I am saying, the prospects for a disastrous collapse from almost a slight impact in the wrong place—if it sets up a series of these almost seismic waves, can have these kinds of disastrous consequences.  We are speculating on what could have caused this. 

If your first thought has been, as it is in our time in which we live, that there might have been some terrorist activity in this, Pete Williams, our Chief Correspondent in Washington for NBC News is reporting at this hour that there has been no suggestion from the Department of Homeland Security that this was anything but a horrific disastrous tragic accident.  And all the evidence suggests that as well.  This would not seem to be—let me clarify that precisely—this would not seem to be anything suggestive of the result of explosives or any other kind of deliberate act. 

This would look to be like the traditions, the horrible traditions in America and North America and Europe, of bridge collapses under extraordinary circumstances.  We have seen them before.  We‘ve seen them before.  A famous bridge across one of the lakes in Scotland collapsed in the 1850‘s because they did not anticipate how much vibration would attack the bridge‘s superstructure and its integrity.  The bridge itself collapsed under the weight of one too many road trains before they knew how much something like that could absorb and how much impact a train like that would create. 

Let‘s recap what we have so far on this story. 

The Interstate Highway 35 W Bridge over the Mississippi in Minneapolis has collapsed during the evening rush hour between 6:00 and 6:05.  This is what it looked like when rush hour began tonight.  And you‘re seeing what it looks like now. 

It dumped at least eight cars—according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, at least eight cares and a truck into the water and onto the ground below.  If that number of eight is the actual number of cars that were dropped off the bridge, we are looking for all the horror we see below us.  We are looking at one extraordinary lucky day in Minneapolis if it‘s not eight, if that number does not go significantly higher, this was a good disaster.

A horrific scene, as the newspaper continues, of damage, fire, smoke, injuries, frantic rescuers and terrified motors.  Understandably so.  Not clear, according to the newspaper report which continues. 

All the reports that we are seeing from our affiliate KARE, in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and all the reporting we‘ve seen from the news service and other news organizations—no number yet on the injured or killed.  However, the Minneapolis Star Tribune is reporting multiple trauma victims, some in racial condition, having been taken to Hennepin County Medical Center.

The crumpled green wreckage, and that is an extraordinarily apt description of the bridge, laying on the east bank of the Mississippi.  The huge section of concrete roadway on the west bank.  Down below, in the river gorge, according to this update from this newspaper the Star Tribune, rescue workers were scrambling to help people on the roadway that had now, by this point, fallen into gorge.  Fires burned.  Black smoke rose and billowed over the wreckage. 

Workers had been repairing the bridge‘s surface as part of improvements along that stretch of Interstate 35 W.  The bridge is 40 years old.  Age, unfortunately, is not always an indicator of the likelihood of a bridge collapse of its susceptibility to vibration and other trauma to the bridges integrity.

People at the scene said the entire bridge collapsed, leaving part of the roadways submerged and part of it above water.  And you‘re a witness to that to, watching at home.

Many people were described by the reporter from the Star Tribune as walking around on the roadway, on those portions that were not submerged.  Now you get, as we widen out a little bit, an idea that one, two, three, the portions standing almost upright in the center, four, five, six—maybe six different sections of this bridge collapsed in what must have been almost like a horrific example of dominoes, or a succession of cards collapsing. 

The pre-designed segment of the bridge each collapsing.  And, again, as bad as it looks, so much of it remains intact.  This would not have done you much good if you have been on that portion standing that is standing there at a 45 to 50 degree angle, right above the breaking word on our graphic. 

But on the other portions, it may have provided a very hard landing, but at least one that kept survivors of this disaster from falling into the river.

We have some eyewitness accounts now.

Ramon Ouge (ph) of St. Paul told the Minneapolis Star Tribute that he was on his way home from work and was driving on the bridge when he heard a rumbling noise—we‘re hearing that quote again and again—saw the ground collapse and cars go down.  He said cars backed up as best they could and he park in a construction zone and was finally able to turn around and drive off the bridge in the opposite direction from which he came. 

Here‘s a quote.  “It did not seem like it was real,” he said.  And we‘re looking at this an hour and 10 to 20 minutes later after the fact. 

And it still doesn‘t look real

Traffic, again—this eye witness agreeing with the other one‘s we‘ve hard from “Bumper to bumper.”  Hundreds of would have been involved, he estimated.  That‘s an unofficial estimate from an eye witness.  Adding that he saw kids on a bus with blood on their faces.  We can update that story.  Those children o the school bus—and we‘ve seen it before from the helicopter pictures from the affiliate KARE—they are reported to have been all survivors from this accident—injured, but alive. 

Another quote.  Sarah Farnhorse (ph), who lives in an apartment which is a block away from what was the 35 W Bridge, heard a huge thud and then her entire building shook.  It shook to the ground. 

Again, we‘ll report what Pete Williams has told us from the Department of Homeland Security.  No suggestion, no intimation, no thought that this was terrorism.  This was just an extraordinary and horrible disaster. 

The Reuters report from the scene, the four-lane state highway across the Mississippi River in central Minneapolis collapsing.  About 6:10 p.m. - - that contradicts time wise with what we have been hearing earlier, 6:05.  Local media reported 20 to 30 injuries, but an encouraging word here, initially, no deaths.  Initially, no deaths.  We might have had, as I suggested earlier, because the suggestion of how much of that bridge remained in tact after it fell.  We might have had—as horrific as this looks—a series of great breaks.  And that is no pun.  A series of unfortunate incidents is because of the how much of the structure of the bridge remained intact.  If there are 20 to 30 injuries, only eight vehicles in the water, this has been an extraordinary day.

More quotes.  Leona Carson, a nearby resident said, “First, I heard this huge roar.  I was at my computer.  Initially, I thought, was that an airplane?

One witness aid said she saw people—and this reports what we‘ve heard before—swimming in the water, seeking safety.

A nursing supervisor at Hennepin County Medical Center interviewed by a local radio station: “We have multiple patients, some critical, some non critical.”  He was asked if there had been any deaths and said, “Not that I know of.” 

The road was carrying bumper-to-bumper traffic when the 500-foot steel arch bridge collapsed.  So we have a steel-arch construction bridge, similar to the one next to it. 

The Minnesota Department of Transportation told the local reporters that its estimate on usage on this bridge on a daily basis is 200,000 cars and other vehicles per day.  We know about the school bus already. 

Divers are now reported in the water looking for additional survivors.

Here is additional video from another station in the Minneapolis-St.

Paul region—from the same station, KARE.  We are seeing this thing that

is just so reminiscent of that earthquake in Oakland and San Francisco in

1989.  Huge, pancaking pieces of a bridge separated from the

superstructure.  The metalwork crushed beneath the roadbed of this bridge,

35 W across the Mississippi from Minneapolis toward the University of


We are informing you what we have here from our MSNBC headquarters.  We probably will learn much more as we now listen to the coverage provided by KARE TV, a live reporter near the scene with the latest.


JOE, KARE REPORTER:  But a number of police squads are just sitting here blocking traffic along with a number of tow trucks.  Another interesting thing to note, this is happening right here near the Metro Dome, which if, of course, where a Twins game is getting going right around now.  That increased traffic in the area, increased the intensity so a lot of people in this area you see walking around in Twins jerseys who are watching this, who were maybe heading to the game when this happened, a little bit after this happened.

We are seeing police from not just from this jurisdiction in Minneapolis, but I‘ve seen a Hopkins police officer on the scene others, which means, more than likely, other jurisdiction from around the area are coming in to help because, as we know, Minneapolis had to come to this scene but still to have to respond to other calls throughout the city.

Another thing that we are seeing, I just noticed a few moments ago, a number of people in blue scrubs perhaps from HCMC or from a local hospital with medical scenes that were walking into the scene.  A bit before that, a photojournalist, (inaudible), witnessed what appeared to be doctors, stethoscopes, heading toward the scene, toward the river to offer any help on the scene that they can offer at this time.  Mike and Julie? 

JULIE, KARE REPORTER:  We‘re looking live at a picture of several rescue boats that are in the water, trying to figure out if there are folks who are still in the Mississippi River.  We understand from an eyewitness that said he was able, miraculously, to walk away from this accident after being on this bridge.  He estimated a 35-foot free fall, he estimated.  And when you consider that bridge is about 64 feet above the Mississippi River, you understand the magnitude of a section of bridge this wide and long falling into the river.

Both directions obviously, bumper-to-bumper traffic at 6:00 tonight—shortly after 6:00 when this accident happened.

We understand that brought Bretta Cogie (ph) saw some school children that were being treated on the scene.  We don‘t know if they came off of that school bus that has been referenced several times.  But we did see a shot of the bus precipitously close to that edge where the bridge went in.  We understand all the children on that bus were able to be escorted from the scene and many, I am sure, on their way to local hospitals as we speak. 

MIKE, KARE REPORTER:  Joe, the bridge spans about 1,900 to 2,000 feet long.  What have the personnel been able to do to redirect some of the traffic that was on the bridge, but not quite to the point of collapse?  Have they been able to clear out those roads? 

JOE:  I am standing on one side and they have been cutting back traffic.  I am going to have to assume—although I‘m walking toward it now—I have to assume they are not letting anyone from 94 get onto 35 W.  That would presumably create back ups on 94, but that would be the smartest approach at this point is to now event let anyone get onto W. 34 going forth.  And that‘s from the south side.  From the other side, it is tough to say exactly what it is they are doing. 

The traffic agents are out in full force in every intersection redirecting people to make sure they don‘t get anywhere close to the scene and keeping traffic flowing.

I‘m standing here at Washington and 35 W.  And traffic is moving.  They‘ve got barricades up everywhere.  Police are just using their squad cars to block the scene.  Police officers in full force just standing out in the road and keeping people as far away as possible.  Police tape everywhere as they try to keep people just from even coming in this direction in the first place.

At this point, the thing is, the only way you can actually get to this spot it to get on to the Interstate.  So all the other city roads they are blocking off is to keep people from walking closer to the scene.

MIKE:  694, 95, 280, the recommended alternates in a situation like this, according to (inaudible).  So many things being digested right now, Joe, by the emergency personnel.  And we‘re still looking like at smoke, though, however, far lighter than it as the last hour and a half or so ago.

Are you able to see if any flames are still active in this area or whether this seems to be a fire that‘s under control?

JOE:  I looked up a few moments ago and saw blacker smoke then I saw not too long before that.  I am not sure what the reason is for that. 

What we‘re still seeing, I‘m looking right now at an ambulance that is pulling up into the area.  The sound of sirens has not stopped filling the air in the last one hour and 20 minutes.  We were actually working on another story at the Hennepin County Medical Center when this happened.  All of a sudden, we just saw a plethora, a variety of ambulances take off in full force.  We knew this was not a typical call.  And we started heading over to the scene as well.

Just now, I‘m seeing more doctors and medical people arriving on the scene.  Whether they have been asked to come or just coming to see what they can do to help, it is hard to say.  The sound of sirens has not stopped filling the air in this area ever since this happened.  We are getting just a little bit after 6:00. 

MIKE:  Were there are a number of divers in the water right now.  When we look at the scene, is far more controlled, as you expect, as for time continues to go by.  Divers are an important aspect in any kind of recovery operation.  With Minneapolis, we‘re expecting that they get help from all types of jurisdictions. 

Is that what you‘re seeing as well?  You had mentioned Hopkins police also on the scene there?

JOE:  Yes.  That was the only other squad car I‘ve seen so far.  But I will have to assume that other jurisdictions have come in to help in whatever way possible, whether it‘s helping at the scene or whether it‘s helping take other calls, I‘m not sure.

Clearly, when an emergency like this happens, suddenly, all of your resources are directed to one area and you still have to respond to the other calls that are going on in the city. 

MIKE:  That is the difficulty for a lot of the department is trying to maintain order in their cities and still as is as best they can. 

JULIE:  Are you seeing them having a fair amount of ease getting in and out with the emergency crews in and out, Joe? 

JOE:  That is part of why they got all of the people out of the area, even if there cars—I assume some of the cars are still trapped in the cordoned off area.  Part of the reason to do that is to help get the emergency vehicles into the cordoned off area.  They have less traffic to deal and that helps. 

Right now, I‘m looking and I‘m seeing the Minnesota Structural Collapse rescue team from the Dina fire department is pulling away from the scene, it appears.  They are from Dina fire department‘s urban search and rescue that deals with structural collapse.  So that is just leaving the scene.  More tow trucks continue to pull up to the area where I am standing at South Second Street and 13th Avenue. 

MIKE:  Witnesses said...

JOE:  Go ahead.

MIKE:  Joe, I‘m just going to ask if the witnesses are folks that are nearby watching this, do they seem to be composed and able to get a handle on the scope of what has happened here? 

JOE:  I think it is shock value.  People probably cannot get close enough to actually see what you guys can see from the helicopters up above. 


OLBERMANN:  The view of the 35 W Bridge across the Mississippi at Minneapolis, Minnesota, where a disaster, purely an accident, has taken lace this evening at the height of rush hour. 

There is a report from local media in Minneapolis-St. Paul that there is at least one fatality as a result of this bridge collapse, which is an awful and tragic thing and obviously come as no surprise to those of you who have been with us in the hour and 20 to 30 minutes since this took place. 

Let‘s reset what happened.  Shortly after 6:00 local time in Minneapolis, central time -- 6:05 was the first and then later we heard 6:10 -- the 35 W Bridge, which traversed the Mississippi toward the area of the University of Minnesota and the baseball and football stadium, the Minneapolis Metro Dome—the Hubert H. Humphrey Metro Dome, collapsed in what has been described as a disaster.  Dozens of cars, trucks, buses, pedestrians and people on bicycles plummeted 30 to 40 feet into the river below.  Some of them still on huge portions of the bridge, as you see there, which survived more or less—the bridge did anyway—more or less intact in most places, I have to say having looked at this image here for half an hour.

We don‘t have any firm number of injuries, nor on survivors.  This is the first report of a fatality.  We know at least eight vehicles went into the water.  At least 20 cars and other vehicles, maybe as many as 50, were affected by the collapse. 

At its height, this bridge was 64 feet above the water.  It is about

2,000 feet in length.  The Hennepin County Medical Center, which is in the

primary receiving hospital for this disaster, a nursing supervisor there

was quoted as saying they have 20 to 30 injured people there, some

critical, some non-critical.  He was asked the question were there

fatalities.  And he said, “Not that I know of.”  Now we have a local report

again, unconfirmed—all of it unofficial, all of it in the earliest stages, of one fatality as the result of this. 

And, as you heard the local reporters describing, many of the survivors were on their way apparently to the Minnesota Twins baseball game, which continues.  If you might think, at first, that that would be somehow insensitive in light of the disaster that has taken place within miles at least of the Metrodome Stadium, consider what would happen if the game were to be canceled or postponed and people were asked to leave the area, further congesting what is on top of the real disaster, what would have to be a traffic calamity of sorts in the surrounding area. 

The last thing you want is more traffic in that region.  So the idea of continuing that baseball game, as trivial as it might seem now, would seem to make some sense.  Again, what caused this?  Lord knows it will be weeks and months, and there will be a lot of money spent figuring out how a 40-year-old bridge, built at what was theoretically the apex of our knowledge of bridge building, would have collapsed in such dramatic and tragic fashion. 

However, at least two witnesses that we have heard from said that they witnessed work being done on the bridge, and the Department of Transportation in Minnesota is confirming that they were resurfacing portions of the bridge.  They heard jackhammers.  One witness said he felt a jackhammer being used and then, almost immediately thereafter, the bridge collapsed.  That is anecdotal from an eyewitness.  But if, under certain circumstances, if there was too much work being done and the structure was not reinforced—if the circumstances of that bridge—if the integrity, as the engineers say, of that bridge was insufficient, vibrations could literally set off the kind of collapse that you are seeing here like a deck of cards being strewn across the Mississippi River. 

Traffic was bumper to bumper.  Maybe 100 vehicles were on the bridge, perhaps even more.  It is all estimates now.  And this, again—We will remind you, I suspect, those who remember it, from 1989 earthquake in San Francisco and Oakland, and the horrible collapse of the Nimitz Freeway in that killed so many people on the lower deck of that double deck structure.  This looks so much like it.  There are two, at least, we are now being told, parkways beneath the 35 W bridge, onto which portions of the bridge collapsed. 

Fortunately, there was no structure directly beneath this bridge for it to collapse on, as was the case in Oakland in 1989.  All the ambulances in Minneapolis and many from St. Paul—We heard references to other suburban communities—helping out.  All of the ones in Minneapolis have been summoned to the scene.  And after initial, large-scale black clouds of smoke were reported and a semi was reported to be on fire, as you can see there in this older videotape—after that, there seemed to have been a quieting of the fire.  We saw fire fighters working on some remaining smoke coming out. 

This is not—if I‘m correct—this is not the live picture.  This is the live picture here.  This extraordinary scene unleashing itself on a quiet Wednesday night in the Twin Cities at the end of rush-hour, 6:05-6:10 local time, an hour and a half or so ago. 

That‘s our recap from the MSNBC headquarters here.  We will now return to the coverage from KARE in Minneapolis/St. Paul for the latest from their reporters on the scene. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Have any of them been able to make cell phone contact with any of the kids?  Any indication of that? 

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

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

Is there any indication around you of where these command centers may be set up, so when people are looking for a loved one, they have a place to go? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Not where I am, but we haven‘t been directed to those areas yet, because they‘re trying to keep us away at this point, as opposed to letting us closer.  There are probably some command centers.  Whether they have set up command centers for loved ones yet, we don‘t know at this point.  Obviously a lot of these parents don‘t know, because they‘re standing her. 

I see one, presumably a father, someone who is on the phone at this time, trying to clearly reach someone.  Parents with concerned looks on their faces with their kids.  But they just don‘t know a lot of information at this point.  No one standing where we are is probably going to be able to guide them in the right direction yet. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  All right, Joe.  We will let you try to grab a word with some of those parents, if you can, and find out if they have made contact with any of their kids.  And we will check back with you shortly.  Thank you. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  7:35 in the evening right now.  Carolyn (ph) has been on with this story for the last hour or so.  This is the I35W Bridge Collapse over the Mississippi in Minneapolis, near the campus of the University of Minnesota.  And, as Joe has been reporting from the scene now, several cars, maybe as 100 -- early reports are that there were many cars on this span when it collapsed right around 6:00 this evening, for all intents and purposes the height of rush hour. 

The extent of the injuries not quite clear at this point, though our Tricia Bulpe (ph) is at HCMC, where many of the injured have been taken, and we‘re hearing anywhere from stable up to critical condition at this early junction.  No reports of any fatalities. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We want to take a look now from our website, if we can.  Some people have been sending us—here is a picture of the bridge that is part the (INAUDIBLE) site, we believe, and just has some information on the bridge.  For example, it was 64 feet high before this collapse.  It was built in 1967, regularly inspected as we have mentioned, by MINDOT.  We‘re not sure when the last date that was inspected.  But it was a steel arch deck truss bridge that apparently collapsed instantaneously. 

We heard from eyewitnesses and people who were actually in cars on the bridge at the time when it fell that 64, 65 feet, say that it was just a complete free fall. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It spans about 2,000 feet and many emergency vehicles and personnel on the scene here.  We expect that they have issued some type of statement from a central hub here in no short order, as well as Homeland Security involved with this, as you would imagine at home.  This is something that needs to be cleared through the Office of Homeland Security, from the point that they need to make certain that there is no terrorism involvement here at all.  At this point, we have no knowledge of that. 

OLBERMANN:  And apropos of that point made by our local affiliate in Minneapolis, St. Paul, KARE, our Pete Williams reporting from Washington, from his contacts at Homeland Security that there is no suspicion of terrorism involved in this.  Perhaps we are beginning to get a clear picture of what happened here from an entry that was presented two days ago on the website two days ago on the website of the Minnesota DOT, the Department of Transportation; “I35W bridge work at Minnehaha Parkway.  Work on the I35W bridge over Minnehaha Creek and Minnehaha Parkway Continues weather permitting.  Daytime pile driving will occur for temporary widening of the existing north bound I35W bridge.  Excess noise may be associate with the activities.” 

I imagine that is where they will start in the investigation as to what happened here.  It continues to dovetail with everything we have heard from eyewitnesses.  Let‘s turn now to an expert in the field of collapse and rescue, in the circumstances, Glenn Corbett, who is a professor of fire science at John Jay College.  Professor Corbett, thank you for your time tonight. 


OLBERMANN:  Explain to me what you see here and what you, as an expert, envision may have triggered this and what is being done now, and what is being complicated by the fact that this is over a river. 

CORBETT:  Certainly, as far as the cause, it‘s something they will be looking into not for days, but probably for months.  There are a variety of different possibilities here, ranging anything from a barge in the creek to design issues or even just a construction issue that we have been talking about.  So, that is going to take long term. 

More importantly is, of course, what is going on right now to rescue any trapped people that are still—need to be rescued in this collapse.  This particular collapse is really complicated.  You are not dealing with just the structural issues of the collapse of the bridge.  You‘ve got the river to contend with.  Potentially, people may have gone in their vehicles into the river, gotten out of their vehicles and may be carried down stream from the point of collapse. 

There is a railroad cars running underneath one section of the bridge.  That potentially could contain hazardous materials.  There are a lot of different very major issues for the incident commander to deal with and I am sure that they have probably broken this down into more manageable areas.  They probably have commanders at each one of these different particular problems, dealing with specifically with the different issues. 

OLBERMANN:  Professor Corbett, I would imagine, as a layman with a little knowledge of architecture and engineering, that the pancake like collapse there, those large intact segments of the bridge that held together even when they hit the water may have served those people who were still on them as a very hard landing, but a landing none the less, may have given them some protection.  What would be disastrous for anybody who had already in some way come off the bridge, that if there were part of the collapse people or vehicles or bicyclist or pedestrians who had fallen off the bridge, that the process of trying to get to them would be made doubly difficult because so much of the bridge came down intact.  Is that a correct assumption? 

CORBETT:  Yes.  Not only that, but the potential—some of the images here show some trucks and things like that at the point of connection from the expansion joints on the bridge.  Those are the areas where they are going to probably find a lot of vehicles that they‘re going to have to contend with. 

Of course, you have got the whole issue for the responders to deal with the secondary collapses.  We saw earlier—I think on the footage you‘re showing now, there was a tractor-trailer on fire and they had hose streams trying to put the fire out.  These are areas—they are operating in areas where there is always that potential for secondary collapses can fall onto the rescuers.  This is an extremely dangerous condition that they are having to contend with right now. 

OLBERMANN:  So, one of the things that a lot of people who are looking at this have probably thought, as we have thought here, is throughout this hour and a half now since this occurred, almost all of the images coming from the Twin Cities have shown the same thing, this awful building collapse.  It looks like someone‘s home toy having collapsed on top of itself.—a toy bridge—toy roadway—a slot track having fallen in on itself. 

The one thing that would seem to be absent that we look for and we‘re so used to in disaster scenes are sirens, are large crowds of rescuers, are the details of police and all the rest of that.  There is a logical reason for this.  You do not want to put an additional pound of weight on this bridge right now, do you? 

CORBETT:  Not only that, but you do not want to put them in an area where a secondary collapse could fall on to these rescuers.  In emergency services, we use incident safety officers and they have their work cut out for them today, basically, because they‘re going to have to be watching as the emergency responders are trying to get to these people, watching for these other kinds of issues, of movements in the rest of the structure and things like that. 

OLBERMANN:  So, Professor Corbett, what we are seeing here, which looks like the aftermath of disaster, but looks like a static situation; this is not necessarily a static situation.  This is, in fact, a very perilous one for those connected still and still on that bridge and in its environs, correct? 

CORBETT:  Yes, not only the responders, but the people that are potentially still trapped between the sections of the bridge.  The firemen and other emergency responders are going to try to get to them.  And like I say, this is a very complicated situation, unlike a lot we have seen in the past.  When we have had bridge collapses—you mentioned earlier the Cyprus collapse during the earthquake.  There was a significant collapse in the Mianis (ph) River bridge in Connecticut in the early ‘80s. 

But those, in fact, are much different, because they were not over water, basically.  They didn‘t have those issues to contend with, as they do here. 

OLBERMANN:  Last question, do you have any insight on what all those eyewitnesses are reporting, what we just read of the DOT website?  Could something like this have been triggered by something as seemingly benign and well-prepared as pile driving during temporary widening of the northbound lanes on the bridge? 

CORBETT:  Certainly, they are going to be looking at that.  You know, when you‘re driving piles, that is a tremendous load on the ground there.  Who knows, that could have, in fact, played a role.  We are going to find out, I‘m sure, in the coming months exactly what happened.  

OLBERMANN:  Glenn Corbett from John Jay College, professor of fire science, providing us great insight into this enveloping tragedy in the twin cities area.  Thank you for your time tonight, sir. 

Let‘s turn now to somebody closer to the scene.  John Brewer is a reporter from the “St. Paul Pioneer Press.”  He is not at the scene, but he is part of their command unit in the newspapers‘ headquarters.  John, thank you for your time under these circumstances. 

JOHN BREWER, “ST PAUL PIONEER PRESS”:  Absolutely.  No problem.

OLBERMANN:  Give us the overview of what you know from your reporters covering this disaster. 

BREWER:  Well, it sounds like the bridge when down around 6:09 p.m.  central standard time.  We heard reports of 30 to 50 cars on the bridge, a bunch in the water.  There was even a school bus with kids in it.  They‘re being treated at a nearby American Red Cross building.  We‘re not sure what the cause is.  We‘re not sure exactly how many people are hurt. 

We had reports of 15 people being injured and taken to a nearby hospital for treatment.  There have not been any reports yet of fatalities.  So, as far as we know right now, nobody has been killed. 

OLBERMANN:  Sir, you can‘t confirm what is apparently being reported on one of the television stations there, where a reporter says he has seen a dead body being removed from the scene? 

BREWER:  No, I cannot confirm that.  We have talked to the Hennepin County coroner and the hospital.  The Hennepin County Medical Center has not reported any fatalities.  This thing is changing rapidly.  Every minute, we are getting new information.  We are sending more people down there to find out what is happening.  It is a pretty catastrophic disaster here. 

OLBERMANN:  Obviously, that is an understatement, and this will continue to be such a disaster for the foreseeable future.  I am wondering, as trying to assess what happened here, we really don‘t have even numbers, in terms of how many vehicles might have been on the bridge at the time.  Is it believed that it was larger than usual because of the two factors of the road work being done on the bridge, the widening and resurfacing, and the fact that there was in Minnesota Twins game at the Metrodome scheduled for this evening? 

BREWER:  That could contribute, but the other thing is that we were reaching the tail end of our rush-hour in the city.  So fewer cars would be travelling across the length at that time.  A lot of times, folks, to avoid traffic downtown for Twins‘ games, take alternate routes through the area.  So, I am not really sure how we can figure out how many cars were on there right now. 

OLBERMANN:  The latest report—this is another television report of three killed in the bridge collapse.  Obviously, that is not something you can confirm.  We won‘t ask you to say that is not the case. 

BREWER:  I have got the same television reports over my shoulder here. 

OLBERMANN:  Do you—Is there a sense from the hospital of the degree of the seriousness of the injured patients they are treating? 

BREWER:  There have been some severe injuries.  That‘s how they characterize it.  That‘s about as bad you can get and still be breathing, unconscious folks being brought in.  You see the pictures of flames, cars in the river.  You have to imagine when the final toll from this is brought up that there are going to be some fatalities. 

OLBERMANN:  As the National Transportation Safety Board goes to investigate, sending a full team, according to the NTSB—when they depart from Washington is yet to be determined.  As we begin to look into the causes for this thing, is there anything, John, that suggests—has there been any history with this bridge?  Has it been a troublesome one?  Have there been incidents?  Have there been barges into the supports?  Anything untoward in the history of this bridge, to your knowledge?

BREWER:  To our knowledge, no, we haven‘t heard of anything like that happening.  I know that the last thing I heard was in 2004, the Minnesota Department of Transportation checked both the north and southbound lanes.  It has a total of four lanes going across it.  They did not find any problems.  As you know, they are doing some resurfacing work right now.  They had been narrowing traffic on the road overnight from the four lanes to one lane in each direction. 

We know that was happening.  We know the construction crew was on the bridge when this happened.  Other than that, we do not know much right now. 

OLBERMANN:  Last question, John, we have shown these pictures now for more than an hour.  I don‘t think anybody has identified this.  We don‘t have Minnesotans right here to answer this question.  But give us the geography of this.  Obviously, we‘re talking about two bridges that we see.  One has collapsed into the Mississippi River, and one above it.  What is the second bridge? 

BREWER:  I have got to figure that out, too.  We have some folks putting together maps.  That‘s another bridge—I cannot tell you what that is right now.  I know there is a pedestrian bridge that is to the south that is full of onlookers, students from the University of Minnesota.  The larger bridge, I‘m sorry I can‘t help you out with that.

OLBERMANN:  All right, then I will extend my last questions to one more.  The school bus, we are seeing videotape of that again.  Are you getting the same reports that the eyewitnesses and the local television stations are reporting, that there were injured children on that school bus, but no fatalities from it? 

BREWER:  Yes, I heard there were injured children.  I got a call from the local American Red Cross chapter, which has an office about a block away, and their lobby has been turned for into a triage center and it is full of the kids from that bus. 

OLBERMANN:  John Brewer of the “St. Paul Pioneer Press,” who has been good enough to take some time and—

BREWER:  I‘m going to have to take off right now. 

OLBERMANN:  We appreciate it.  Thank you, John.  All right, let‘s recap what we know.  All of it still, as John Brewer from the newspaper suggested—it is all coming in at light speed here.  It is most disorganized as the scene itself continues to unfold.  But at approximately—now we‘re getting the time -- 6:09 central daylight time in Minneapolis, the 35W bridge across the Mississippi River—the interstate bridge—collapsed all of a sudden, after a slight rumbling, portions of it dropping directly into the river, in the middle of rush hour, with traffic perhaps slower moving than usual on the bridge because there was a resurfacing project under way in dramatic and in disastrous and in tragic mode. 

One school bus, many vehicles of other kinds, many cars, dozens, perhaps 100 in total, plummeting to some degree, some of them dropping 30 to 40 feet, as portions of the bridge collapsed.  Some of them dropping the full 64 feet, from the high point of the bridge, into the river, into the Mississippi.  The number of vehicles directly affected, those that went into the water or were damaged by this, is now ranging from the low number of eight, which, when we heard that number first, as we suggested to you, was—if it were the case, it was going to be extraordinarily good news.  Now it may be as many as 50. 

You just heard John Brewer from the “St. Paul Pioneer Press” saying that perhaps 30-35 cars were in the water.  Sixty four feet above the water at its highest point, 2,000 feet long, this bridge, somewhere about that, perhaps 1,950.  Most of the injured—you also heard the triage center at the nearby Red Cross building, where the kids in that school bus, right center of your screen, were taken.  They are apparently all OK.  At least, they are alive.  I wouldn‘t say OK yet.

But 20 to 30 injuries were reported about 45 minutes ago by the nursing supervisor at the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minnesota.  Some critical, some non-critical, he said.  He did not know of any deaths at that point.  We have heard reports now of up to three fatalities here.  This is near the University of Minnesota campus.  And again, our eye on the ground, John Brewer from “St. Paul Pioneer Press” said, there is a pedestrian bridge that is slightly out of view of our helicopter shot, which is apparently filled with students from the University of Minnesota, who are looking at this scene right now. 

It is also near the Metrodome.  Many of the people on this bridge were trying to get to the Minnesota Twins baseball game that began about 50 minutes ago and continues at this hour.  The bridge is 40 years old.  It has been inspected within the last three years.  There was work being done on it.  I don‘t know if there is anything more dramatic to be said than to read what was taken off the Minnesota Department of Transportation highway bulletin and travel alert. 

This update that was posted on July 30th, on Monday, “I35W bridge work at Minnehaha Parkway: work on the I35W bridge over Minnehaha Creek and Minnehaha Parkway continues weather permitting.  Day time pile driving will occur for temporary widening of the existing northbound I35W bridge.  Excess noise may be associated with the activities.” 

Again, it is speculative at this point, but the history of bridge collapses and large roadway structural collapses in this country all point to the same thing, that vibration can do as much damage as someone coming along and punching a series of holes in it.  Vibration can do as much damage as an explosion.  A bridge can be brought down by a strong wind if the bridge is not properly secured, if the roadway is too heavy and the support to week. 

Let‘s see if we can come up with a few more bits of information as they come through.  That county medical center, Hennepin County Medical Center, HCMC in the local parlance, has asked all personnel who are not working to report to the hospital for duty.  They have seen, as of three minutes ago, 15 patients so far, some critical.  But they consider that only the first wave and are expecting more over the next several hours. 

The NTSB, as we mentioned, will be sending a full team to investigate what happened here.  No clear time as to when that team will be dispatched from the capital, Washington, D.C.  This report here from the state police in Minnesota, the bridge has collapsed.  That is the incident description.  Rescue efforts are under way. The incident type is special case.  At this point, the cause is undetermined, according to state police. 

Traffic is being stopped at University Avenue.  At this time the state patrol is setting a command posts.  At that time, there will be someone available to answer questions.  I‘m sorry.  You didn‘t need to know that.  Cell phones are inoperable at this time.  I can‘t explain that in the slightest. 

In any event, we do not know for sure of fatalities.  There are reports from one of the local news stations in Minnesota that one of its reporters witnessed a dead body being removed from the scene.  There is another report that there are at least three fatalities here.  We know certainly of 20 to 30 injuries at the Hennepin County Medical Center.  The latest update on that actually knocked that number down.  But, again, it suggests 15 patients have been seen so far, some critical.  That does not mean that they don‘t have more there.  They are just, as always in these situations—triage situations are set up so that the most seriously injured are seen first. 

So those two numbers, although they seem contradictory -- 15 and up to 30 -- one may be a subset of the other.  What we think happened, from the eye witness accounts—again, what knocked the bridge down?  What knocked the 35W across the Mississippi River in Minneapolis will be unclear for weeks, months, maybe even years to come.  But it happened, and it happened with traffic moving, according to eye witnesses, at about 10 to 15 miles per hour.  As they were being squeezed slightly, due to a widening project, in which there was some resurfacing. 

Now you‘ve got a good look at some of the rescue personnel, who, as you heard from our fire expert from John Jay College—there is a reason they are not any closer to the scene than that.  The remnant of that bridge, those portions that are still sitting there, are still in a dangerous situation.  And people working on there right now are showing the highest form of heroism and doing their jobs at great risk of personal safety.  Just because we have not seen anything collapse does not mean that the prospect is not there at all times. 

Now, a Twin Cities radio station is reporting that a body has, indeed, been taken from the scene of the bridge collapse, the busy freeway bridge that spans the Mississippi, with dozens of cars, tons of concrete, twisted metal, crashing into the water.  The interstate 35W, with some injured people having been carried up the river bank from the Mississippi while emergency workers attended to others where they fell. 

A school bus had just—there it is again, center screen.  That school bus now just on the right center of your picture had apparently just completed crossing the bridge, and that would make sense from where we are seeing it.  Obviously, that traffic is going towards the top of the screen.  That first major break in the bridge, of several different portions that collapsed almost independently, now independently of one another—that first portion is where that school bus was. 

Children injured.  Apparently all of the children are all right and removed from the school bus.  They are not in there at this hour.  Apparently they are at a Red Cross facility, which could be in the vicinity there and nearby, which is again, another good stroke of fortune here, as so many of details suggest.  We have had a series of extraordinarily good pieces of fortune for a disaster. 

There is activity to the left and to the right.  I can‘t tell you where the Red Cross center is, but that is where the kids are and they are apparently all alive.  Each one of the witnesses has reported the same thing, a pounding sensation.  Those who were on the bridge, in vehicle, had a pounding sensation, heard it, felt it, and then the bridge collapsed. 

That is what remains of the 35W across the Mississippi River.  At least one dead, according to one of the top news stations in the Midwest.  As many as three dead, according to a television report.  And a disastrous series of events that took place at rush hour at 6:09 -- that‘s the official estimated time when this occurred -- 6:09 central daylight time the portion of Interstate 35W over the Mississippi collapsed.  Tons of concrete falling into the river, and onto two parkways, and onto a railroad line. 

Amelia Huffman, a spokesman for the Minneapolis police department said that a portion had dropped into the water.  The entire bridge, more or less, has collapsed into the river.  It is unclear what caused it.  The assistant nurse manager at Hennepin County Medical Center said we have a major disaster going on.  I think those pictures would say that clearly. 

Multiple patients have come to the medical center.  The update on that was they have seen at least 15.  Another nursing supervisor said they have 20 to 30.  The bridge was built in 1967.  Again, as we approach 8:00 central time, after this disaster, the only indication so far—the only confirmation we have here is that all of the elements seem to be in place for some form of bridge collapse caused by this repair work, the widening project.  The collapse perhaps as has been caused by vibrations that emanate throughout a bridge and destabilize it and make the roadway an elevated roadway, or a suspended roadway, a swinging mass that is too heavy to be supported by the structure around it. 

The it will often, as you see there, crack and collapse.  Our MSNBC coverage of the disaster over the Mississippi in Minneapolis continues now at 9:00 eastern, 8:00 central, with Dan Abrams.  Dan?



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