Pennsylvania’s governor to issue a disaster declaration to move forward with repairs to collapsed section of I-95
(CNN) — A body has been recovered from among the wreckage of Sunday’s Interstate 95 collapse in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania State Police told CNN on Monday afternoon.
The body was turned over to the Philadelphia County Medical Examiner. “Authorities are in the process of identifying the remains,” Pennsylvania State Police spokesperson Myles Snyder said.
Authorities did not provide any additional information.
No injuries or fatalities had been reported immediately after a crashed tanker truck caught fire around 6:20 a.m. Sunday and caused a stretch of northbound I-95 to fall on top of the truck, authorities said.
But it was unclear Monday whether the driver or anyone else was trapped at some point. Authorities have not confirmed the status of the driver.
The inferno began after the tanker driver took an off-ramp and crashed into a wall, state officials said Monday. The driver was going northbound on I-95 Sunday morning and hit the wall while trying to navigate a curve, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Secretary Mike Carroll said Monday.
The truck “landed on its side,” and the crash into the wall ignited the fire, Carroll said. The truck was carrying 8,500 gallons of gasoline, Pennsylvania State Police said.
Officials will not launch a criminal investigation into the collapse, Pennsylvania State Police said Monday.
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.
Governor issues a disaster declaration
Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro issued a disaster declaration Monday, which allows the state to dip into federal funds and cut red tape to expedite repairs.
The roadway is one of the busiest interstates in the region, typically carrying about 160,000 vehicles through Philadelphia daily.
Investigators are monitoring the emergency response as crews sift through rubble to get to the tanker truck – a focus of the investigation, said Jennifer Homendy, the National Transportation Safety Board chair.
Massive chunks of the fallen overpass are now being demolished, authorities said Monday.
“Demolition of the collapsed bridges has begun and detours are in place,” the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation said.
“A more exact timeline for the complete rebuilding of the I-95 roadway should be available in the coming days once the engineers complete their review.”
While crews try to clean up the debris, federal investigators are probing the tanker truck fire that led to the collapse – leaving part of the East Coast’s primary highway with major damage that could take months to repair.
The tanker was carrying gasoline bound for delivery at a local Wawa gas station, said Homendy.
“We have to get in and see what we think happened with the tanker truck,” said Homendy, underscoring the chain of events will remain unclear until investigators can examine the truck’s cab. “There are lots of different scenarios,” she said.
Investigators could also consider the structural makeup of the bridge, Homendy said.
US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg 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.”
Northbound lanes collapsed and southbound lanes were damaged due to the intensity of the inferno and were “not structurally sound to carry any traffic,” Shapiro said.
Restoring the highway will likely take months, he said, adding that his office was looking into “alternatives to connect the roadway beyond detours.”
“I found myself thanking the Lord that no motorists who were on I-95 were injured or died,” Shapiro said.
Millions of people ‘impacted in a significant way’
Rep. Brendan Boyle, a Democrat whose district includes the collapsed section of the highway, told CNN that “you are literally going to have millions of people in what is one of the largest population centers in the country impacted in a significant way.”
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.
Drivers heading southbound can take Route 63 West, US 1 South, I-76 East and I-676 East, the city said. Northbound drivers can detour to I-676 West, I-76 West, US 1 North to Route 63 East.
Leslie Richards, general manager of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), said the agency is adding extra capacity and service to other transportation routes and evaluating all options in assisting travelers as they work around the highway collapse.
“In order to accommodate travel through the city and region following the I-95 collapse, SEPTA will provide added capacity and Service. on the Trenton, West Trenton and Fox Chase Lines,” said SEPTA, the sixth-largest public transportation agency in the US.
The governor said Buttigieg “has assured me that there will be absolutely no delay in getting federal funds deployed to quickly help us rebuild this critical artery. I-95, of course, is a critical roadway that supports our economy and plays an important role in folks’ everyday lives,” Shapiro said.
While the fire was contained by Sunday afternoon, firefighters remained at the scene as a precaution “because of the large volume of product that was involved,” Philadelphia Fire Department Deputy Commissioner Jeffrey Thompson said.
Crews worked through the night to clear the collapsed section of the road.
Officials warned residents to avoid the area and to expect delays of trash collection and bus routes in the area.
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.
A previous highway collapse illustrated how long it can take to make repairs.
In 2017, a 92-foot-long elevated section of Interstate 85 in Atlanta collapsed following a fire. Officials were able to replace five spans of the overpass in six weeks – sooner than originally expected – but the repairs came with a $16 million price tag. Traffic was diverted to other interstates in and around the city.
That fire was fueled by construction materials stored in a state-owned storage lot under the highway. More than two-thirds of the 44 state departments of transportation polled by CNN after the 2017 collapse said the incident prompted them to inspect local bridges and re-examine storage policies.
A witness in the 2017 incident told police a man ignited a chair that he’d placed under a shopping cart. The Georgia Department of Transportation said the fire eventually spread to spools of high density polyethylene. The suspect was arrested but arson charges were dropped when he entered a drug diversion program.
Video shows ‘dip’ in the road before collapse
Shortly before the collapse, Mark Fusetti was driving south on I-95 in Philadelphia to pick up his son from the airport Sunday when he saw large plumes of dark smoke and started shooting video. At first, he thought it was a brush fire.
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. He said he was startled by the dip.
“It felt like you drove off a curb,” Fusetti said.
“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.
With thousands of tons of steel and concrete on top of where the fire was burning, firefighters initially faced a challenge getting to the seat of the fire, Philadelphia Fire Department Battalion Chief Derek Bowmer said at a news conference Sunday.
“It looked like we had a lot of heat and heavy fire underneath the underpass,” Bowmer said.
There were also explosions around the highway collapse caused by “runoff of maybe some fuel or gas lines that could have been compromised by the accident,” Bowmer said.
President Joe Biden has been briefed on the collapse, according to a tweet from White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
A spokesperson for the Federal Highway Administration said administrator Shailen Bhatt would be in Philadelphia on Monday to “offer federal support and assistance.”