A portion of Interstate 95 in Northeast Philadelphia was closed in both directions early Sunday morning after a tanker truck believed to be carrying gasoline caught fire, causing part of the freeway to collapse, officials said.
The collapse left officials scrambling for ways to ease Monday morning commutes and assess what options are available to compensate for the loss of the busy highway, which carries about 160,000 vehicles a day for weeks to come.
A tanker driver was in the off-ramp of I-95 North when a crash or other incident sparked a fire under the freeway lanes, which will travel up, said Brad Rudolph, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
“That building collapsed quickly with the heat of the fire as big as it was,” he said. “Then the south-facing structure was also closed because it was compromised by the fire.”
At a news conference Sunday afternoon, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro said at least one vehicle was trapped under the collapsed roadway and authorities were still working to identify “any individual or individuals” caught in the fire and flames. The collapse, which happened around 6:20 a.m
He described the scene on the highway as a “remarkable disaster,” adding, “I saw no motorists on I-95 thanking God that they weren’t hurt or killed, you know.”
The north side of I-95 has completely collapsed, and the south side is structurally sound, Mr. Shapiro noted that it could take “a few months” for the highway to be repaired.
Mr. Shapiro said he would issue a disaster declaration on Monday, and federal Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg promised the necessary resources to speed up the process.
Pennsylvania Department of Transportation spokesman Mr. Rudolph said the cause of the fire is still under investigation, but nothing yet suggests it was intentional.
He said the fire broke out on the ramp from I-95 north to Godman Avenue, which exits and passes under the freeway.
“It looks like a car accident,” Mr. Rudolph said. “That slope can be tricky if you’re going at high speeds.”
National Transportation Safety Board He said on Twitter It sends a team to conduct a “security inquiry” into the incident.
Dominic Mireles, director of the Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management, said at an earlier news conference that the agency was concerned about the “environmental impacts” of the fire and the collapse of the Delaware River, which runs parallel to the damaged area. Highway.
The Philadelphia Water DepartmentIt draws on Delaware for some of its supply, saying Sunday afternoon there was “no impact on water quality.”
“Philadelphia Water Department staff are continuing to monitor the situation and are working with other agencies on the emergency response,” it said.
The area affected by the fire included auto shops, construction companies and Four Seasons Total Landscaping, a family-run business then owned by former President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani held a news conference in 2020. The election of President Biden.
All lanes of I-95 between the Woodhaven and Aramingo exits and some nearby streets were closed Sunday afternoon, the city of Philadelphia said. A press release.
The city advised commuters to plan alternate routes for their weekday commutes and encouraged them to use public transportation. State and local agencies are creating detours including Pennsylvania Route 63, Interstate 676 and US Route 1, the city said.
At a press conference Sunday afternoon, Leslie Richards, general manager of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, said cars will be added to scheduled trains and free parking will be available at three stations.
“This is an emergency that has created a huge challenge for our transport network,” Ms Richards said. “We will all need extra patience in the coming days.”
Repairing similarly damaged roads will take weeks, said Johns Hopkins University assistant professor of engineering Thomas Gerne, who said parts of the overpass may even be damaged.
Although buildings are protected from fire using sprinkler systems and other means, external highways are not, he added.
“We’re in an unfortunate situation where a fire occurs underneath a structure,” he said.
In April, a portion of Interstate 95 in Connecticut was closed after a fuel tanker crashed into a major bridge. The explosion killed one person and sent home heating oil into the River Thames, officials said.
In 2017, a portion of Interstate 85 in Atlanta collapsed due to fire. The contractor who replaced the damaged road, CW MathewsHe said that he stayed for 44 days and worked without interruption and repaired it.
Livia Albeck-Ribka Contributed report.