Officials work to identify remains recovered from wreckage of I-95 collapse in Philadelphia as demolition begins
(CNN) — Authorities are working to identify a body recovered from the wreckage of the Interstate 95 collapse in Philadelphia, where crews have started around-the-clock efforts to demolish the crumbled East Coast artery that could take months to rebuild.
An overpass section of the busy highway came crashing down around 6:20 a.m. Sunday, after a truck carrying 8,500 gallons of gasoline crashed and exploded in flames under it, officials said. The truck had taken an off-ramp, crashed on its side while trying to go around a curve, slammed into a wall and ignited a fire, Pennsylvania Transportation Secretary Mike Carroll said Monday. The truck driver has not been identified, and authorities have not said whether the driver survived the crash.
The fire caused a stretch of the overhead northbound I-95 to fall on top of the truck, authorities said. Southbound lanes were also compromised, officials have said, and will similarly need to be repaired.
The National Transportation Safety Board has said it’s beginning its probe and the tanker truck will be an initial focus of the investigation.
The body recovered Monday was turned over to the local medical examiner’s office.
The company that owns the truck has been in contact with officials and is complying with state police, officials said. State police would not identify the company.
The mangled and charred wreckage of the truck could be seen being hauled away Monday, as crews with heavy equipment worked in the rubble of the collapse. Officials said demolition efforts could take up to five days.
But it could take months to rebuild that section of I-95 – a major East Coast highway that typically carries about 160,000 vehicles through Philadelphia daily.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg plans to visit the site of the collapse on Tuesday, his spokesman Ben Halle told CNN.
Buttigieg has said his agency is prepared to help local officials swiftly address the extensive disruption caused by the collapse. “To be clear, swiftly is not going to be overnight,” Buttigieg told reporters Monday at an event hosted by the American Council of Engineering Companies. “We’re talking about major structural work.”
Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro issued a disaster declaration Monday, saying it will allow the state to dip into federal funds and cut red tape to expedite repairs. The proclamation makes $7 million in state funds immediately available for the reconstruction – though the total cost of the mammoth project remains unclear.
Shapiro also spoke with President Joe Biden Monday, “who reaffirmed the federal government’s commitment to provide whatever resources are needed to repair I-95 safely and efficiently,” the governor’s office said.
Exactly how long it’ll take to rebuild the collapsed bridge has yet to be determined.
The state’s transportation department said a timeline would be released after engineers complete a review.
“Crews will work around the clock to ensure that demolition and reconstruction occurs quickly and efficiently, and that the roadway will reopen as soon as possible,” the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation said.
NTSB investigating truck fire and bridge
As machinery tows pieces of the crumbled highway away, a team of federal investigators is beginning to examine the tanker truck fire and how it led to the highway collapse, National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy told CNN.
Investigators were already at the scene Monday as emergency response crews continued to sift through the rubble to get to the vehicle itself, Homendy said.
The tanker was carrying gasoline bound for delivery at a local Wawa gas station.
“We have to get in and see what we think happened with the tanker truck,” Homendy said Monday, underscoring that the accident chain remains unclear. “There are lots of different scenarios.”
Investigators might also examine the structural makeup of the bridge, according to Homendy.
“Once they get in there and look at it, they’ll see if it’s something that they want to look at,” Homendy said. “It’s difficult to say right now without them having direct eyes on it.”
Pennsylvania State Police said Monday that officials will not launch a criminal investigation into the collapse.
Shortly before the collapse, Mark Fusetti was driving south on I-95 in Philadelphia and began filming when he saw plumes of dark smoke.
Fusetti’s cell phone footage appears to show his car and other vehicles driving over a “dip” along I-95 as smoke billowed from under both sides of the highway.
“I realized what happened when I looked in my rearview mirror. I see 95 – all of the cars stopping and then I learned, shortly after that the road had just collapsed and what was really going on,” Fusetti told CNN’s Jim Acosta on Sunday.
Department Battalion Chief Derek Bowmer previously said along with the smoke and fire under the highway, there were also explosions caused by “runoff of maybe some fuel or gas lines that could have been compromised by the accident,” he said.
Residents warned to expect delays as impacts of highway collapse ripple
The collapsed roadway is one of the busiest interstates in the city – a critical East Coast thoroughfare that officials say supports Pennsylvania’s economy.
Restoring the highway will likely take months, Shapiro said, adding that his office was looking into “alternatives to connect the roadway beyond detours.”
The impacts could ripple across the state and the larger northeast. Buttigieg said the incident was “causing what we know will be extensive disruption for the movement of people and goods through that region.”
He called it “a cruel reminder of the importance of our infrastructure,” while at the gathering of the American Council of Engineering Companies Monday.
Residents were warned to expect delays to trash collection and bus routes in the area. All lanes of I-95 are closed between the Woodhaven and Aramingo exits, the city of Philadelphia said. Some surrounding streets are also closed for the emergency response.
Monday morning commuters were forced to find new routes to work, with traffic impacts stretching beyond just the I-95.
“You don’t realize how much that cripples the city,” resident Ruth Acker told CNN affiliate WPVI.
“I was supposed to go to work. Stopped at Wawa – made a mistake – 45-minute detour just to get to Wawa,” commuter Danny Rodriguez told WPVI.
Officials from New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland have been “quite helpful” managing I-95 traffic in the wake of the bridge collapse, Carroll, the state’s transportation secretary, said Monday.
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority also said it added extra capacity and service to other transportation routes and was evaluating all options to assist travelers as they work around the highway collapse.