Biden visits collapsed bridge, touts infrastructure

Damaged vehicles are seen at the site of a collapsed bridge in Pittsburgh, Pa, on Friday.

PITTSBURGH (Reuters) — U.S. President Joe Biden stopped to look at a Pittsburgh bridge that collapsed just hours before he arrived for a scheduled visit to the city on Friday, dramatically underscoring the urgency of his drive to rebuild the United States’ creaky infrastructure.

Visibly moved, Biden gazed across a ravine over the buckled sections of the half-century-old Fern Hollow Bridge, flanked by Pennsylvania and local officials and emergency workers as he surveyed the damage.

“The idea that we have been so far behind on infrastructure, for so many years — it’s just mind-boggling,” the president told them.

One emergency worker described the scene after the collapse as loud as a jet engine. Biden praised the work of rescuers, noting a natural gas leak that was not stopped until some 30 minutes after first responders arrived at the scene.

Rescuers rappelled at least 46 meters into Fern Hollow, and used ropes to pull people to safety after the snow-covered span over the ravine collapsed around 6 a.m., Pittsburgh Fire Chief Darryl Jones said.

“They helped the firefighters that were here initially on scene, also did like a daisy chain, with hands just grabbing people and pulling them up,” Jones said.

Ten people suffered minor injuries, including four who were taken to the hospital, city officials said. Jones added that crews would search under the bridge for any victims.

The incident was a high-profile example of the need to rebuild the nation’s aging bridges, highways and other infrastructure with money from $1 trillion spending bill that was a signature achievement of Biden’s first year in office.

Images of the collapse showed the four-lane span buckled into three large sections, with several vehicles piled in the rubble of the collapsed roadway at the bottom of the ravine. The tail end of a long, red city bus appeared trapped by the rubble.

The massive gas leak caused by the collapse forced the evacuation of several families from their homes before being brought under control, Jones said.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said it was sending a team to the site.

Pennsylvania has 3,198 bridges rated as being in poor condition, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The collapse came just two weeks after Pennsylvania got $327 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation for bridge repair as part of the Biden administration’s new infrastructure law. Pennsylvania’s share of the bridge-repair money is the third-largest state allocation, behind only California and New York.

Biden said he was astonished to learn Pittsburgh had more bridges than any city in the world. “And we’re going to fix them all,” he said before leaving the site.