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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Interview with Rebecca Smith

Aired May 26, 2002 - 11:40   ET

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


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Now we want to recap now on a breaking story that we're following for you in Eastern Oklahoma, where a 400-foot span of a bridge over the Arkansas River has collapsed earlier this morning.

There is a search underway now, a very aggressive search for survivors, for people who have fallen into the waters there, people who were in their cars and big rigs. At least seven big rigs and nine cars fell into that river, and the rescue efforts are underway.

We want to bring in Rebecca Smith of the Muscogee County Emergency Services. Rebecca, can you tell us what are rescue efforts up against right now? I understand the weather is pretty precarious there with some thunderstorms in the region, right?

REBECCA SMITH, MUSCOGEE COUNTY EMERGENCY SERVICES: Yes, it is. When this initially happened, there was a lot of (inaudible) and just heavy, heavy downpours. It slacked off some. We still have significant cloud cover.

That's kind of hampering visibility just a little, but so far the last 30 minutes or so the rain seems to be holding off. However, what I'm getting from the scene is one of the big problems is the current in the location of where the vehicles may be. The divers are having maybe a little bit of a difficult time getting to them simply because the current is so strong right there.

WHITFIELD: This span is a very well traveled, heavily traveled expanse over the river there. It runs east and west. Was there any, from the survivors, from people who have been pulled from the waters there, is there any indication from them that you know, any indication that this bridge might be collapsing as a result of this barge hitting? What have you been able to hear from these survivors?

SMITH: Actually, I have not spoken with the survivors. My understanding is that there are three at local hospitals that have been talking with hospital officials, and I believe you spoke with (inaudible) earlier on that from Muscogee Regional Medical Center. But I have not spoken with any of the survivors at this point.

WHITFIELD: So this was a manned barge that rammed into this bridge at about 7:30 your time this morning, correct?

SMITH: That's my understanding, yes. WHITFIELD: What do you know about that barge?

SMITH: All I can tell you is it is still on the scene. It has not been moved from the bridge area. From what I can tell just observationally, it doesn't appear to have a significant amount of damage and we don't believe anyone on the bridge was injured.

WHITFIELD: Now -

SMITH: I'm sorry, on the barge.

WHITFIELD: OK, now had there been any eyewitness accounts of people who were in those cars who have, you know, tried to swim their way to safety? What is the scene there?

SMITH: Initially there was one vehicle who was on part of the bridge that collapses that did not actually, the vehicle itself did not actually go into the water and those - there were two people in that vehicle and they have been transferred to emergency and they have spoken with officials. But like I said, I haven't had a chance to speak with any of them.

WHITFIELD: Now you said weather is one very significant factor hampering the search there. Where this took place is about 30 miles west of the Arkansas border, about 100 miles east of Oklahoma City. That sounds to me like an awfully difficult location in which to get to. How have emergency crews been able to make their way to this location?

SMITH: Well, actually this is right on I-40, which of course is a national highway going east and west. It's heavily traveled and it's really, as far as things go, it could have been a lot worse. This is a fairly easy area to get to.

WHITFIELD: And because of the weather, you can't use any choppers in the rescue efforts, correct?

SMITH: Well now, initially no. We do have a couple on scene at this time because, like I said, the rain and the thunder and lightning have stopped. There are still some cloud covers, but we do have a couple of medical helicopters on scene at this time.

WHITFIELD: How were you all able to get the call in? Were there some other motorists in the area who made their emergency call that something terrible had happened?

SMITH: Yes, there was some - this is a very popular fishing and boating area. It's a large section of the Arkansas River. In fact, we are - the command center is at one of the resort areas here actually on the river. And so there were people, my understanding is there were people actually in the water fishing and fishing off the bank that sort of thing that made the initial call.

WHITFIELD: All right, thank you very much Rebecca Smith of the Muscogee County Emergency Services. So once again, this taking place near Sallisaw in Oklahoma just about 30 miles from the border with Arkansas.

A 400-foot expanse of this bridge over the Arkansas River collapsed after a manned barge crashed into it, sending vehicles that were on that bridge into the water and now the rescue efforts are still underway there and we will be updating that situation for you as soon as we get that information.

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