Baltimore engineers start eradicating bridge wreckage to reopen the canal

The cargo ship Dali lies in the water after striking and collapsing the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland, March 26, 2024.

Kevin Dietsch | Getty Images

Engineers in Maryland began lifting a piece of the Francis Scott Key Bridge from the waterway in Baltimore on Saturday, the first step in a long process to reopen the city's shipping port.

“I cannot emphasize enough how important today and the initial movement of this bridge and wreckage is,” Gov. Wes Moore said at a news conference Saturday. “The complexity of this matter cannot be overstated.”

The Key Bridge collapsed early Tuesday morning after a container ship collided with one of its pillars. Several people were missing, six of whom the US Coast Guard believes are dead.

“We will never lose sight of the human aspect of this crisis,” Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said Saturday.

In the days since the collapse, the Port of Baltimore, the nation's 11th-busiest port, has been out of service until further notice, forcing shipping lines to divert to other ports.

Federal, state and local government officials have mobilized their teams to try to bring the port back online. President Joe Biden will visit the city next week and has committed to having the federal government cover the entire cost of restoring and rebuilding the bridge.

To complete the bridge's first lift on Saturday, engineers cut a section of the bridge to make it manageable for their crane. Once the piece is cut, engineers attach straps to it, rig it and lift it onto a barge to transport it out of the waterway.

If successful, this process could be repeated on other parts of the bridge to clear a passage for the resumption of some transportation, both for additional vessels assisting in the restoration of the bridge site and possibly for some commercial vessels.

“Once we're able to reopen a channel, it may be able to be reused for commercial purposes, but we need to be clear about that first, and that's what we're working on,” said U.S. Coast Guard official Shannon Gilreath.

Economists say the closure of the Port of Baltimore is unlikely to have a major impact on the macroeconomy, but it is still a significant disruption complicating shipping supply chains.

“This isn’t just about Maryland. This is about our state’s economy,” said Governor Moore. “Our economy depends on the Port of Baltimore and the Port of Baltimore depends on shipping traffic.”

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