Rescue crews rappel 150 feet to assist Pittsburgh bridge collapse victims
Pittsburgh Fire Chief Darryl Jones reported that 10 people were injured, and three were transported to a hospital
UPDATE 12:42 p.m. CT
By Gene Puskar and Mark Scolforo
PITTSBURGH — A 50-year-old bridge collapsed in Pittsburgh early Friday, requiring rescuers to rappel nearly 150 feet (46 meters) and form a human chain to reach occupants of a bus that had plummeted with the span into a park ravine.
The collapse came hours before President Joe Biden was to visit the city to promote his $1 trillion infrastructure law, which has earmarked about $1.6 billion for Pennsylvania bridge maintenance.
There were minor injuries from the collapse but no fatalities, said authorities, who also flew drones to make sure no one was under any collapsed sections. Five other vehicles were also on the bridge at the time. The cause was being investigated and crews were searching under the debris for additional victims.
City officials said the Forbes Avenue Bridge over Fern Hollow Creek in Frick Park, came down at 6:39 a.m. Witnesses said the loud noise from the collapse was followed by a hissing sound and the smell of natural gas.
“The first sound was much more intense, and kind of a rumbling, which I guess was the structure, the deck hitting the ground,” said Ken Doyno, a resident who lives four houses away. “I mean, the whole house rattled at that point.”
Ruptured gas lines along the bridge produced the leak and the supply of gas was shut off within a half-hour, city officials said.
A spokesperson for the National Transportation Safety Board, an independent government agency that investigates transportation problems, said Friday the agency was sending a team of about 10 people to investigate “not only what happened but why it happened.”
Sam Wasserman, a spokesperson for Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey, said a few hours after the collapse that officials were evaluating the scene and an urban search-and-rescue team was still combing the area for any other possible victims.
He said most of the 10 people who were evaluated for injuries were first responders checked for exhaustion or because of the cold and snowy weather. Three people were taken to hospitals and none had critical injuries, Wasserman said.
The scene was reminiscent of the aftermath of an earthquake, with a large crack on the end of the bridge where the bus landed. There was also a car upside down in front of the bus.
A two-part, elongated Port Authority of Allegheny County bus was on the bridge when it collapsed, with two passengers aboard in addition to the driver, said Adam Brandolph, spokesperson for the transit agency. All three were taken off safely.
About two hours after the collapse, Brandolph said, one of the passengers was on another bus when the passenger began complaining of injuries and was taken to a hospital. The driver and other passenger were not hurt, according to Brandolph.
The bus had started its route in downtown Pittsburgh and was headed to the suburban community of Braddock.
“Judging by the time of day, had this bus been traveling inbound, toward downtown, there likely would have been more people on the bus and obviously could have been a much, much more dire situation,” Brandolph said.
The bus had seven or eight cameras and any footage they captured of the collapse will be part of the investigation.
“We have have not yet been able to review that footage but we certainly hope to very soon,” Brandolph said.
Neighbors said a gas company worker went door-to-door to get them to evacuate from the immediate vicinity before the gas was successfully shut off.
“Apart from just this abiding noise, we could begin to smell gas and that was the truly frightening thing, then with that smell we both said, let’s get dressed and get out of here,” said Lyn Krynski, whose home is nearest the bridge.
“It sounded like a weather phenomenon more than anything,” said Douglas Gwilym, who was shoveling about an inch of snow when he heard the noise. “It was all I had to compare it to — it was this odd, whooshing sound.”
At the site of the collapse, Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman called it “just an awful, surreal scene.”
“I hope it’s a wake-up call to the nation that we need to make these infrastructure investments,” Fetterman said.
The bridge is an important artery that leads to the Squirrel Hill and Oakland neighborhoods, and a popular route toward downtown Pittsburgh. Authorities told motorists to avoid the area. Several neighbors said a weather-prompted two-hour school delay may have prevented a far worse human tragedy.
In a statement, the White House said Biden would proceed with his planned trip to Pittsburgh.
“Our team is in touch with state and local officials on the ground as they continue to gather information about the cause of the collapse,” the statement said. “The President is grateful to the first responders who rushed to assist the drivers who were on the bridge at the time.”
The steel bridge, which was built in 1970, carries about 14,500 vehicles a day, according to a 2005 estimate.
Wasserman said the most recent inspection occurred in September but the report was not immediately available.
But a September 2019 inspection of the city-owned bridge revealed the deck and superstructure to be in poor condition, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Bridge Inventory. A spreadsheet on the state Department of Transportation website listed the bridge’s overall condition as poor, which, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, means “deterioration of primary structural elements has advanced.”
Scolforo reported from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Associated Press writers Tom Krisher in Detroit and Michael Rubinkam in northeastern Pennsylvania contributed to this report.
UPDATE 10:17 a.m. CT
First responders rappelled down about 100 to 150 feet to reach victims of the bridge collapse in Pittsburgh this morning, Fire Chief Darryl Jones said at a news conference, CNN reported.
“It was handled as best as it could be handled,” Jones said of the rescue effort.
Firefighters, police officers and EMS teams responded to the collapse, USA Today reported.
By Ed Blazina, Andrew Goldstein, Kris B. Mamula, Julian Routh, Mick Stinelli and Stephanie Strasburg
PITTSBURGH — Ten people were injured Friday morning when the bridge that carries Forbes Avenue over Frick Park collapsed in Pittsburgh’s Point Breeze neighborhood.
Three of the injured were transported to the hospital, Pittsburgh fire Chief Darryl Jones said, but none of them had injuries that were considered life-threatening.
UPMC said it had received three adult patients in fair condition at UMPC Presbyterian hospital in Oakland by 9:30 a.m.
Pittsburgh Public Safety tweeted just before 7 a.m. Friday that the bridge had collapsed.
Photos from the scene showed four vehicles that had fallen in the chasm left by the collapsed bridge, with a fifth — a Port Authority bus — dangling precariously over the edge.
Port Authority confirmed that one of its 60-foot articulated buses had become trapped on a slab of the remnants of the bridge. Agency spokesman Adam Brandolph said the bus driver and the two passengers onboard were able to escape without injury.
News of the collapse came as the city prepares for a visit from President Joe Biden, who is scheduled to speak about infrastructure Friday afternoon at Mill 19 in Hazelwood. Multiple officials said the collapse illustrated the need for infrastructure investment.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey and Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman were on the scene of the collapse Friday morning, as were numerous police, EMS and park vehicles.
“We were fortunate,” Gainey said, that no one was killed.
“We’re just going to continue to hope for the best and make sure that we get this together,” he added.
Fitzgerald noted that the bridge is “a major artery” that connects the East End, Squirrel Hill and Oakland with both Downtown Pittsburgh and the eastern suburbs.
“A lot of work is going to need to be done,” Fitzgerald said.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf wrote on Twitter that his office is “monitoring the situation” and “prepared to provide support as needed.”
The city warned the public to avoid the area near the intersection of Forbes and Braddock avenues, which split the Point Breeze, Regent Square and Squirrel Hill neighborhoods.
The collapse caused a large gas leak, which emitted a sound like a jet engine, on Forbes near South Dallas Avenue. Crews from Peoples Natural Gas were able to shut off the gas, Fitzgerald said.
Chief Jones said several nearby families were evacuated from their homes due to the gas leak but have since been allowed to return to their homes.
The cause of the collapse is under investigation. The bridge was most recently inspected in September, city officials said, but it was not immediately clear if there were any issues discovered during that inspection.
The bridge is about a quarter-mile from the Reynolds Street entrance to Frick Park. It goes over a wooded ravine and a creek that are part of the park.
The bridge crosses over a popular walking trail in Frick Park and an off-leash dog exercise area. People were in the park around the time of the collapse, but there were no immediate reports of injuries on the trail.
Dog walkers and other neighbors gathered near the scene Friday to gasp together and to shoot photos and cellphone videos.
John Jacobs, of Squirrel Hill, said he walks his two dogs in the park every morning.
“It’s funny Biden’s in town on the infrastructure bill,” Jacobs said. “What a coincidence.”
Biden was expected to speak extensively on infrastructure during his remarks, particularly with a stress on the importance of the recently passed $1 trillion bill that is intended to fund repair and maintenance of the nation’s roads, bridges, railways and other physical infrastructure.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the president would proceed with his trip as planned and “will stay in touch with officials on the ground about additional assistance we can provide.”
"[Biden] has been told of the bridge collapse in Pittsburgh,” Psaki tweeted. “Our team is in touch with state and local officials on the ground as they continue to gather information about the cause of the collapse.”
Psaki added that Biden is “grateful to the first responders who rushed to assist the drivers who were on the bridge at the time.”
Gainey said the bridge collapse highlights the need for infrastructure improvements.
“We need it,” the mayor said. “We know we have bridges that need to be taken care of.”
Gainey said the bridge was last inspected in September. Inspections dating back to 2011 show the bridge has been rated in poor condition, according to the National Bridge Inventory.
The American Society of Civil Engineers said in a 2021 report that 46,154 bridges were considered in poor condition, or about 7.5% of the country’s 617,000 bridges.
U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, a Democrat whose district includes the city of Pittsburgh, said he anticipates the bridge collapse to “disrupt transportation” for months.
Doyle added that he’s been in touch with the White House, Gainey and Fitzgerald “to ask for help and facilitate coordination on rebuilding it.”
On Twitter, Doyle wrote that this is a “tragic example of why the [infrastructure] bill Congress just enacted is needed. We should be constantly investing MORE in our infrastructure so our bridges and other public works don’t reach this point of disrepair.”
In an interview Thursday previewing the president’s visit to Pittsburgh, Fitzgerald told the Post-Gazette that there are structures in the region built almost a century ago that, without the infrastructure investment, are at risk of failing by the end of the decade.
St. Bede Catholic School near Frick Park, which had been on a two-hour snow delay, canceled classes Friday because of the bridge collapse. A strong smell of natural gas was reported in the vicinity of the school, a spokeswoman said.
Pittsburgh Public Schools also adjusted because of the collapse. The district said in a news release that all K-5, K-8, 6-8 and special education schools would move to remote learning because of the collapse and a high volume of driver call-offs. High schools and 6-12 schools were continuing with in-person classes on a two-hour delay schedule. Transportation is canceled, the district said, as is grab-and-go meal service.
Melissa Bakth, 43, who lives near Frick Park, was in bed around 6:55 a.m. when she heard the four-lane bridge collapse, followed by the rushing sound of the natural gas line breaking.
“There was a boom, then a monster sound,” Bakth said. “It was so loud, and it didn’t stop. It could’ve been me. I’m on that bridge every day. It’s very, very busy.”
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