Editor's Note: Rick Leventhal is covering the bridge collapse in Minneapolis. He will be blogging throughout the upcoming days with the latest updates from the scene. Keep refreshing your page for the latest update.
Monday, August 6
3:46 CT, Minneapolis, MN
The ground rules were simple: two representatives were permitted from each media agency; those selected had to be ready to board the buses at 3 p.m. CT; we could stay for 30 minutes on the bridge; and, no interviews. Lastly, when we were told that when the 30 minutes were up, we should quickly board the buses for the ride back to the parking lot.
You can make great time with a police escort. The Deputy Police Chief hits on his lights and siren and sets off down University Ave., which has been bumper to bumper on the stretch approaching the I-35 W bridge ever since it collapsed. I rode in the front of the first bus, next to my photographer Cappy Cochran, watching with amazement out the front window as cars peeled off to the right and left, like the parting of the Red Sea. It reminded me of the scene in "Bruce Almighty," when Jim Carrey wills all the vehicles out of his way.
It took maybe three minutes to roll down the center of the two lanes to the 10th Street bridge entrance, where police officers pulled orange barrels out of the way and our driver navigated around the barricades and cones and rolled onto the span adjacent to the site of the collapse.
The first thing I saw was the freight train crushed under a deck of thick concrete and steel on the bridge's north end. Some have suggested that the train might have been a trigger to the collapse. Moments later, we rolled to a stop and piled out to survey the damages from perhaps the best vantage point in town, save from standing on the 35W itself. The view was incredible, stunning and awe-inspiring. The crowd of camera crews, still photographers and reporters was respectfully quiet. There were no jokes, no smiles. Everyone was all business. This was a death scene, an awful accident shattering lives and transforming a city. The gravity and weight of the incident and aftermath was unmistakable in the rubble and wreckage below.
Cappy and I understood the value of our visit. This was a rare and limited opportunity to document the tragic collapse and we had to maximize our time. We needed to get as much video as possible, plus live-shoot for the Sunday night FOX Report, and the video would be fed-in and possibly aired live as it was feeding, depending on what time we made it back to the satellite truck (my next scheduled live shot was at 5 p.m. ET, and the bridge tour would end at 4:30).
I suggested Cappy shoot as if she were editing in camera: clean, quick shots, mixing up angles, pans and zooms, focusing on any action by divers or others on the bridge, but also gathering the most compelling images as quickly as possible. I borrowed her digital camera and snapped photos while she shot tape for 12 to 15 minutes. Then we set up for the standup. Before she rolled, I went over what I hoped to do: start tight on a twisted steel support and zoom out as I described the scene on the bridge, then move from the most compelling sites, north to south, narrating as she lingered on each spot, then back to me for an on-camera close. It was going to be a lengthy as-live and there wasn't much room for error, since the clock was ticking. Fortunately, we did it in one take, then shot a tease. There was still time left, so Cappy got some more b-roll until the call came to get back on the bus.
Sometimes we get so focused on the task at hand we lose sight of the bigger picture. I always make efforts not to let that happen, and as I stood at the railing I tried to soak up the scene below. What went through the minds of the drivers? How many acts of bravery played out in the river? How many victims were still trapped in and under the debris? Why were these people the ones to fall? What separated the survivors from the less fortunate? How long would it be before another bridge would rise up?
Like many other major catastrophes I've witnessed, this was awful; I feel for the Twin Cities, and hope it's people get all the help they need.
8:30 CT, Minneapolis, MN
I spoke to Governor Tim Pawlenty near the site of the Interstate 35W Bridge collapse, as divers continued to search the murky and turbulent water for victims.
I asked him if there was anything the state needed — any message he wanted to deliver, anything he felt the American people should be more aware of.
He told me that he appreciated the question, but said he felt things were progressing relatively well here. The recovery operation was going about as smoothly and quickly as it could, under the circumstances … although he's asked for and hopes to receive extra assistance from Navy divers.
The governor left with his staff and security, but a few minutes later, Heidi, our guest booker, handed me her cell phone. "The governor would like to speak with you."
He told me he'd been thinking about our conversation and thought of something viewers could do to help.
"It would be great if they could say a prayer for the victims and their families" the governor told me, "and for the divers and rescue workers, for their safety."
This is a city and state with incredible challenges and trying times ahead. They will need all the strength and support they can get.
Thursday, August 2
12:30 CT, Minneapolis, MN
The Red Cross has set up a family support center at the Holiday Inn downtown. There are grief counselors and clergy in a ballroom, sitting with relatives who are worried sick over loved ones missing since the bridge collapsed.
Reporters and cameras are being kept outside, but some family members are coming out to talk about the waiting and worrying.
That's where I met Jessica Engebretsen, an 18 year old getting ready for her first year of college. She lost both grandmothers a month ago and late yesterday, her mom Sherry vanished. Jessica is sure she was crossing the I-35W Bridge when it collapsed.
Sherry Engebretsen hadn't used the bridge all summer because of ongoing road construction, but last night, for some reason, she apparently decided to give it a try.
Jessica says her mom has a bad knee and can't swim. She's clinging to hope her mother is OK, maybe in a hospital somewhere, praying with her family for strength.
"This is the hardest thing ever" she told me, choking up. "We just hope that God will be with her right now ... I know she's living ... I just know it. She's really strong. That's all we have to believe."
Her father Ronald, Sherry's husband of 32 years, says he felt an emptiness when he got home and Sherry wasn't there.
"Have you thought about what you'll say or do if you find your wife?" I asked him. He smiled. "Oh yes. I'll hug her and give her a big kiss … that's pretty obvious."
For now, all the family has is their faith.
9:25 CT, Minneapolis, MN
The East River Parkway runs along the edge of the University of
At a low curve in the road there's a turn for East River Flats, which has now turned into a staging area for the Hennepin County Sheriffs Department, as they coordinate recovery efforts on the river. There are numerous mobile command vehicles and dive teams from Hennepin and surrounding jurisdictions. The Ramsey County Emergency Search and Recovery team is here, as well as the Minnesota Structural Collapse Rescue Team from the St Paul Fire Department.
At this point, many of the agencies are just getting their boots on the ground, waiting for instructions on how to proceed.
8:36 am CT, Minneapolis, MN
There's police tape everywhere, blocking access to streets and parks in the neighborhood along the river's edge. We're allowed under the tape and onto a footbridge across the Mississippi, with the skyline ahead of me and the collapsed span to my left.
I can see the twisted metal and concrete, and some vehicles in the water. A chopper circles overhead. Otherwise, it's eerily quiet.
A Minneapolis police car just drove by with four officers inside. One had his head back and mouth open, apparently fast asleep. I'm sure it was a long night, with many more ahead.
8:01 am CT, Minneapolis, MN
We just arrived at the media camp on University Avenue at the ramp to the 35W bridge. I can see the first bit of collapsed roadway, now a parking lot for a variety of what appear to be state highway work vehicles.
There are at least twenty live cameras set up in front of the barricades blocking the ramp, including three of our own for Bill Hemmer, Casey Steagall and Jeff Goldblatt.
Matt Lauer is right next to Bill.
We're grabbing our crew and taking a walk to get closer to the scene.
8:55 am ET, Newark, New Jersey
Ten of us boarded a Gulfstream jet at Newark Airport just before 4:00 a.m. this morning, including two camera crews, three producers, Shepard Smith and Bill Hemmer, who needed to be on site in time for his 9:00 a.m. show.
The flight took about two and a half hours. I saw the sun rise as we approached Minneapolis and St. Paul airport.
Soon after we entered the terminal, a small white Citation XL jet with "United States of America" on the side pulled in and parked.
Out climbed five members of the National Transportation Safety Board's "Go Team."
They were greeted by a State Police escort and gathered their bags to head to the accident scene.
I spoke to their Public Affairs Officer Terry Williams, who handles press inquries. He told me the NTSB Chairman arrived earlier and more members of the team are on the way, expected to total 15 in all.
Now we've loaded all our gear in two vehicles and are headed toward the scene, listening to news radio, handling emails, and discussing potential angles we can pursue.
FOX News has LIVE team coverage throughout the day of the bridge collapse. Click here to see tonight's schedule.
• For another reporter's perspective, read Jeff Goldblatt's reporter's notebook.
Rick Leventhal has been a New York-based correspondent with the FOX News Channel since June 1997. You can read his bio here.