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Cranes arriving to start removing wreckage from deadly Baltimore bridge collapse

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A tugboat moves by a container ship as it rests against the wreckage of the Francis Scott Key Bridge on Wednesday, March 27, 2024, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

BALTIMORE (AP) — The largest crane on the Eastern Seaboard was being transported to Baltimore so crews on Friday can begin removing the wreckage of a collapsed highway bridge that has halted a search for four workers still missing days after the disaster and blocked the city’s vital port from operating.

As the sun rose Friday, a crane could be seen at the site.

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said the large crane, which was to arrive by barge and can lift up to 1,000 tons, will be one of at least two used to clear the channel of the twisted metal and concrete remains of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, and the cargo ship that hit it this week.

“The best minds in the world” are working on the plans for removal, Moore said. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the Baltimore District told the governor that it and the Navy were mobilizing major resources from around the country at record speed to clear the channel.

“This is not just about Maryland,” Moore said. “This is about the nation’s economy. The port handles more cars and more farm equipment than any other port in America.”

He warned of a long road to recovery but said he was grateful to the Biden administration for approving $60 million in immediate aid. President Joe Biden has said the federal government will pay the full cost of rebuilding the bridge.

“This work is not going to take hours. This work is not going to take days. This work is not going to take weeks,” Moore said. “We have a very long road ahead of us.”

Thirty-two members of the Army Corps of Engineers were surveying the scene of the collapse and 38 Navy contractors were working on the salvage operation, officials said Thursday.

The devastation left behind after the cargo ship lost power and struck a support pillar early Tuesday is extensive. Divers recovered the bodies of two men from a pickup truck in the Patapsco River near the bridge’s middle span Wednesday, but officials said they have to start clearing the wreckage before anyone can reach the bodies of four other missing workers.

State police have said that judging by sonar scans, the vehicles appear to be encased in a “superstructure” of concrete and other debris.

Federal and state officials have said the collision and collapse appeared to be an accident.

The victims, who were part of a construction crew fixing potholes on the bridge, were from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, Butler said. At least eight people initially went into the water when the ship struck the bridge column, and two of them were rescued Tuesday, officials said.

The crash caused the bridge to break and fall into the water within seconds. Authorities had just enough time to stop vehicle traffic, but didn’t get a chance to alert the construction crew.

During the Baltimore Orioles’ opening day game Thursday, Sgt. Paul Pastorek, Cpl. Jeremy Herbert and Officer Garry Kirts, of the Maryland Transportation Authority, were honored for their actions in halting bridge traffic and preventing further loss of life.

The three said in a statement that they were “proud to carry out our duties as officers of this state to save the lives that we could.”

The cargo ship Dali, which is managed by Synergy Marine Group, was headed from Baltimore to Sri Lanka. It is owned by Grace Ocean Private Ltd. and was chartered by Danish shipping giant Maersk.

Synergy extended sympathies to the victims’ families in a statement Thursday.

“We deeply regret this incident and the problems it has caused for the people of Baltimore and the region’s economy that relies on this vitally important port,” Synergy said, noting that it would continue to cooperate with investigators.

Of the 21 crew members on the ship, 20 are from India, Randhir Jaiswal, the nation’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, told reporters, saying one was slightly injured and needed stitches but “all are in good shape and good health.”

Scott Cowan, president of the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 333, said the union was scrambling to help its roughly 2,400 members whose jobs are at risk of drying up until shipping can resume in the Port of Baltimore.

“If there’s no ships, there’s no work,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can.”

The huge vessel, almost as long as the Eiffel Tower is tall, was carrying nearly 4,700 shipping containers, 56 of them with hazardous materials inside. Fourteen of those were destroyed, officials said. However industrial hygienists who evaluated the contents identified them as perfumes and soaps, the Key Bridge Joint Information Center said, and there was “no immediate threat to the environment.”

About 21 gallons (80 liters) of oil from a bow thruster on the ship is believed to have caused a sheen in the waterway, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Shannon Gilreath said.

Booms were placed to prevent any spreading of oil, and state environmental officials were sampling the water and air.

Containers are hanging dangerously off the side of the ship, Gilreath said, adding, “We’re trying to keep our first responders … as safe as possible.”

The sudden loss of a road that carried 30,000 vehicles a day and the port disruption will affect not only thousands of dockworkers and commuters but also U.S. consumers, who are likely to feel the impact of shipping delays.

The governors of New York and New Jersey offered to take on cargo shipments that have been disrupted, to try to minimize supply chain problems.

From 1960 to 2015, there were 35 major bridge collapses worldwide due to ship or barge collisions, according to the World Association for Waterborne Transport Infrastructure.

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Witte reported from Annapolis, Maryland. Associated Press writers Sarah Brumfield in Washington, Krutika Pathi in New Delhi, and Lisa Baumann in Bellingham, Washington, contributed.



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