An elevated section of busy I-95 collapses in Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — An elevated section of Interstate 95 collapsed early Sunday in Philadelphia after a vehicle burst into flames, closing the main north-south freeway on the East Coast and threatening to disrupt travel in some parts densely populated northeast, authorities said.

Transportation officials warned of major delays and street closures and urged drivers to avoid the area in the northeast corner of the city. Initial reports indicated that the vehicle may have been a tanker, but authorities could not immediately confirm this. The fire was reportedly brought under control.

Video from the scene showed a massive concrete slab had fallen from I-95 onto the road below. No injuries were reported.

The northbound lanes of I-95 were gone and the southbound lanes were “compromised” due to the heat from the fire, said Derek Bowmer, battalion chief for the Philadelphia Fire Department. Runoff from the fire or possibly broken gas lines were causing explosions underground, he added.

Mark Fusetti, a retired Philadelphia police sergeant, said he was driving south toward the city’s airport when he noticed thick plumes of black smoke rising above Highway. As he passed the fire, the road below began to “push in”, creating a noticeable depression that was visible in video he took of the scene, he said.

He saw the traffic in his rearview mirror stop. Soon after, the highway’s northbound lanes collapsed.

“It was crazy timing,” Fusetti said. “For it to deform and collapse so quickly, it’s pretty remarkable.”

The effect on traffic was not immediately clear, but most drivers using the I-95 corridor between Delaware and New York use the New Jersey Turnpike rather than the segment of freeway where the collapse occurred. .

Until 2018, drivers had no direct freeway connection between I-95 in Pennsylvania and I-95 in New Jersey. They had to take a few miles of surface roads, with traffic lights, to get from one to the other.

Officials were also concerned about the environmental effects of runoff into the nearby Delaware River.

“Today is going to be a long day. And obviously, with 95 departures up north and questionable down south, it’s going to be even longer than that,” said Dominick Mireles, director of the Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management.

Thousands of tonnes of steel and concrete were piled up at the site of the fire, he said, and heavy construction equipment would be needed to start clearing the debris.

Authorities planned to launch a drone to assess the damage.

The blaze was strikingly similar to another fire in Philadelphia in March 1996, when an illegal tire depot under I-95 caught fire, melting railings and warping the sidewalk.

The highway was closed for several weeks and partial closures lasted six months. Seven teenagers have been charged with arson. The landfill owner was sentenced to seven to 14 years in prison and ordered to pay $3 million of the $6.5 million in repair costs, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

More recently in Atlanta, an elevated section of Interstate 85 collapsed in a fire, closing the busy road in the heart of the city in March 2017. A homeless man was charged with starting the blaze , but federal investigators said in a report that the state Department of Transportation’s practice of storing combustible building materials under the freeway increased the risk of the fire.


Associated Press writer Jake Offenhartz in New York contributed to this report.

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