Crews begin cleaning up the scene of the Philadelphia I-95 freeway collapse

PHILADELPHIA, June 12 (Reuters) – An excavator removed large chunks of concrete from the site of a collapsed overpass on Interstate 95 in Philadelphia on Monday, frustrating motorists and forcing them to seek alternate routes along one of the busiest highways on the U.S. East Coast.

A section of I-95 was closed in both directions Sunday after a truck carrying gasoline caught fire, causing concrete to buckle and collapse. Officials did not say how the fuel caught fire.

Officials have not confirmed any injuries or fatalities, although local media reported on Monday that human remains were found at the scene.

The truck driver, identified as Nathaniel Moody, was unaccounted for, local ABC affiliate WPVI TV reported.

The local coroner and the mayor’s office were not immediately available to confirm the discovery of human remains or the name of the truck driver.

During the morning commute, local traffic reporters reported bumper-to-bumper traffic near the collapse and on alternate routes, but few motorists appeared to heed warnings to use public transport or stay home.

“Things are getting worse over time,” KYW News Radio Traffic Correspondent Justin Traffic said at 8 a.m. EST (1200 GMT).

He noted that Mondays are typically a low-traffic day. “Tomorrow will be the real test indeed.”

Workers and investigators spent the morning and afternoon surveying the damage at the scene, as an excavator entered the wreckage and moved massive chunks of concrete where part of the highway had been.

Officials said it will take several months to rebuild the I-95 segment. It is the main north-south highway on the East Coast from Miami to the Canadian border in Maine.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the federal government is working with the state of Pennsylvania to repair the highway.

“It’s going to be a big disruption in that region,” Buttigieg said. He didn’t specify a precise timetable for the fix, but said “definitely not days. We’re not talking about a couple if weeks.”

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro issued a disaster declaration Monday, freeing up federal funds to rebuild a stretch of highway used by 160,000 vehicles daily.

He urged residents to seek alternatives, take commuter trains or work from home if possible.

Delivery companies UPS and FedEx said Monday they were closely monitoring the situation and making adjustments.

The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said it has sent a team to investigate.

Buttigieg said the department plans to use emergency relief funds for reconstruction but did not specify the amount. He also said Federal Highway Administration chief Shaylan Butt was in Philadelphia.

The closed portion of I-95 is a major route for delivering goods, he said. “It’s not just about the journeys – it’s also the supply chain.”

Andy Herman, a former president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, said the bridges were not designed to withstand the heat of a tanker truck fire, which can exceed 2,000 Fahrenheit (1,090 Celsius), and such incidents are not uncommon.

Herman said Sunday’s collapse will spark a debate about changing bridge design requirements, but it’s hard to see how the U.S. can improve the country’s many overpasses.

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“That means they’re looking to maintain the basic safety of the bridges as they deteriorate,” he said.

Reporting by Jared Renshaw in Philadelphia, David Shepherdson in Washington, Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas, and Andrea Shalal in Washington; Editing: Jonathan Otis, Lisa Schumacher and Mark Heinrich

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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