Pittsburgh bridge collapse: First responders form human chain to rescue people

‘Firefighters that were here initially on the scene ... did like a daisy chain with hands just grabbing people and pulling them up,’ fire chief says

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Friday 28 January 2022 19:12

Bridge collapse in Pittsburgh leaves 10 with minor injuries hours ahead of Biden visit

First responders formed a human chain to rescue people after a bridge collapsed in Pittsburgh.

The two-lane bridged collapsed before 7am on Friday, with emergency personnel rappelling down almost 150 feet (46 metres), while other first responders formed a “daisy chain” – holding on to each other as they pulled people up.

“Firefighters that were here initially on the scene ... did like a daisy chain with hands just grabbing people and pulling them up. So it was a physical rescue,” Pittsburgh Fire Chief Darryl Jones told reporters.

The bridge collapsed occurred just hours before President Joe Biden is set to speak about infrastructure in the city.

Chief Jones said that there were 10 minor injuries and that “three were transported” for care. He said some injuries were caused by “slips and falls” but that everybody is okay.

Pittsburgh Public Safety said that a gas line was cut after people at the scene sensed a strong smell of natural gas.

The agency reported a “confirmed bridge collapse” at around 6.50am. A photo from the area shows about five vehicles on the collapsed bridge, including a bus on an incline. Two people were on the bus – the driver and a passenger.

A general view shows a collapsed bridge in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. January 28, 2022, in this image obtained from a social media video

Emergency services work at the scene of a collapsed bridge in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. January 28, 2022, in this image obtained from social media video

Pittsburgh Public Safety told residents to “please avoid” the area “if at all possible”.

KDKA reported that homes in the area were being evacuated due to the smell of the gas, but Chief Jones later added that the situation was under control.

Democratic Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey told reporters that the bridge was last inspected in September of last year.

Vehicles including a Port Authority bus are left stranded after a bridge collapsed along Forbes Avenue on January 28, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

A Port Authority bus and another car that were on a bridge when it collapsed Friday Jan. 28, 2022, are visible in Pittsburgh's East End

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki tweeted that Mr Biden “has been told of the bridge collapse in 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”.

She added that Mr Biden “is grateful to the first responders who rushed to assist the drivers who were on the bridge at the time. The president will proceed with [the] trip planned for today and will stay in touch with officials on the ground about additional assistance we can provide”.

Mr Gainey said infrastructure improvements are needed, and that the “bipartisan infrastructure law is critical to southwest Pennsylvania and the city of Pittsburgh. We know we have bridges that we need to take care of”.

“At the end of the day, we could have had some serious injuries,” he added.

The mayor said it is “critical that we get this funding, and we’re glad to have the president coming today”.

Chief Jones said shortly before 9am that “right now, we are stepping down operations and sending some of the units back home,” but he added that the emergency services “will be here for a while”.

“We still have to do a little bit of recon and make sure that no one was under the structure when it collapsed. There was a massive gas leak caused by the collapse that is now under control. Several families were evacuated from their homes,” he said. “They have been allowed back. We were told by the gas company that all their gas service has been restored.”

He added that first responders “repelled down using ropes” to get to some of those on the bridge.

Area resident Wendy Stroh told KDKA that the bridge collapse “sounded like a huge snow plow … pushing along the surface with no snow”.

“I didn’t know what it was … It was very frightening,” she added.

Democratic Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman told CNN that he has “driven across this bridge thousands of times ... it’s surreal, the entire span of the bridge has collapsed”.

Pennsylvania Lt Governor John Fetterman walks near the scene where a bridge collapsed in Pittsburgh's East End, Friday Jan 28, 2022

According to the White House, Mr Biden will speak in Pittsburgh at 2pm on Friday about “strengthening the nation’s supply chains, revitalizing American manufacturing, creating good-paying union jobs, and building a better America, including through the bipartisan infrastructure law”.

Sam Wasserman, a spokesperson for Mr 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, Mr Wasserman said.

He added that the two-part, elongated Port Authority bus was on the bridge when it collapsed, with a driver and at least one passenger who were both evaluated by emergency medical responders.

Mr 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,” he said.

The steel span, which was built in 1970, carries about 14,500 vehicles a day, according to a 2005 estimate.

While the most recent inspection occurred in September, a 2019 inspection of the city-owned bridge revealed the deck and superstructure to be in poor condition, according to the US 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”.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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