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Bridge rescuer: 'It's pretty sickening'

Witnesses react to Oklahoma bridge collapse

The collapsed bridge opened a 600-foot gap in the highway.  

WEBBERS FALLS, Oklahoma (CNN) -- Participants and spectators of a fishing tournament were horrified by what they saw Sunday when a barge slammed into an Interstate 40 bridge, plunging cars and tractor-trailers into the Arkansas River.

"It was a quiet Sunday morning, and you're sitting there watching the fisherman have a good time, and then all of a sudden you hear this, and you could even feel it, the ground when it fell," said John Morgan, who watched the bridge collapse.

Morgan said he heard a "real loud rolling thunder noise" that lasted a few seconds. He said that at first he thought a boat had exploded.

Another witness said she saw two cars fall into the river "with a big splash."

"It was unbelievable," she said.

About a dozen vehicles fell into the river.

Participants in the tournament immediately alerted authorities and helped in the rescue effort, said Oklahoma State Highway Patrol Trooper Jason Hanlon.

He said when he arrived at the scene it was "like in the movies," with a tractor-trailer hanging over the edge of the bridge.

A barge struck a bridge in eastern Oklahoma on Sunday morning, collapsing a 600-foot section and dropping vehicles 62 feet to the Arkansas River (May 26)

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"As I looked over the edge, I saw some fishermen pulling a body out of the water and he was alive, he was helping himself up," Hanlon said.

Morgan said he was there to help one truck driver who was able to make it to shore.

"He was following a truck and he says it just disappeared in front of him, and that he couldn't get stopped and he didn't remember, he doesn't know how he got out of his truck," Morgan said.

Rescue divers were brought in to help, but the search was too dangerous because of the strong current and concerns about the structural stability of the collapsed bridge.

Volunteer diver Josef Blann said visibility under water was so bad he could just see his hand in front of his face. He said that on the surface, "It's pretty nasty."

"It's pretty bad; it's pretty sickening," the Marine reservist said. "There's a lot of people in the water. There's debris, baby diapers and car seats up and down this side of the embankment."

Five people were rescued from the water. Authorities believe several people were killed.

I-40 is the major east-west route through Oklahoma.

"This bridge carries all the traffic from Arkansas west," said Sgt. Jarrett Johnson of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. "There are probably thousands of cars that travel over this bridge every day."

The site is about 40 miles from the border with Arkansas. The bridge collapsed about 7:30 a.m. (8:30 a.m. ET).




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