Baltimore bridge: Alternative route to open for shipping

The wreckage of the Francis Scott Key Bridge lies across the Dali cargo ship in Baltimore
The Dali cargo ship crashed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge, which collapsed. [Reuters]

A temporary route for ships has opened near the collapsed Baltimore bridge, as part of what officials call an "enormous" recovery effort.

Six people died after the Dali cargo ship struck the Francis Scott Key Bridge last week. Four bodies remain lost in the wreckage.

Shipments have also been suspended at the port, one of the busiest in the US.

Maryland Governor Wes Moore said: "We need to do more work clearing the channel in order to move forward."

At a press conference on Monday, he emphasised the urgency of moving the debris - which he said was a prerequisite for rebuilding the bridge - and outlined the hazards of the operation.

"Every time someone goes in the water, they're taking a risk," he said, after describing water "so murky" that divers could barely see beyond a foot in front them.

"Every time we move a piece of the structure, the situation could become even more dangerous. We have to move fast but we cannot be careless."

Governor Moore said that after a 10-hour operation, Unified Command was able to cut and lift a 200-tonne span of the bridge "almost the size of the Statue of Liberty".

"It's a small piece of what we're talking about," he said. "The scale of this project, to be clear, it is enormous, and even the small lifts are huge."

Those involved in the clean-up have been cutting debris from the bridge into smaller pieces that can be removed and taken to a disposal site.

Cranes have been erected on the site to help lift debris from the bridge. That includes the Chesapeake 1000, the largest crane on the eastern US seaboard.

The temporarily channel that opened on Monday would help officials get more vessels into the water around the site of the collapse, Governor Moore said.

The taskforce set up in the wake of the disaster said the temporary route was for "commercially essential vessels", and had been opened as part of a "phased approach to opening the main channel".

Currently, a 2,000-yard (1,828-metre) safety zone exists around the wreckage, preventing all vessels and people from entering the area without permission from port officials.

Roughly 80-90% of the bridge wreckage is currently underwater, according to officials.

US President Joe Biden is scheduled to visit the site on Friday, the White House has announced.

"As the president said within hours of the collapse, this administration will be with the people of Baltimore every step of the way," White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Monday.

The Port of Baltimore is a key economic generator for the state of Maryland and a vital artery for imports and exports of US and global trade.

Experts say it could take a month before it reopens, and years to rebuild the bridge. It is thought an investigation into last week's incident may take years.

The US government last week approved $60 (£47m) in initial emergency funds requested by Maryland. Mr Biden has said he hopes the government will entirely fund the bridge's reconstruction.

But that proposal was met with almost immediate backlash from conservative Republicans who aim to curb government spending.

"The very thought of having the Federal Government pay for the Baltimore bridge is TOTALLY ABSURD!!" South Carolina Republican Ralph Norman told The Hill by text message.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in an MSNBC interview on Wednesday that she expected insurance payments to cover some of the costs to rebuild the bridge.

The Dali container vessel - which is nearly as long as the Eiffel Tower - remains on the water. Its crew, all Indian nationals, are reportedly still aboard and unharmed.

Little is known about them, and it remains unclear when they will be allowed off the stranded ship.

The recovery has been further complicated by the amount of debris in the dark waters of the Patapsco River. Divers have been unable to see more than a foot or two in front of them.

Eight construction workers were repairing potholes on the Key Bridge when the Dali cargo ship veered into one of its columns, forcing most of the structure into the water.

Two were rescued and the bodies of two others have been recovered. The search for the remaining four - who are presumed dead - has been put on hold due to the challenges posed by the bridge debris.

Isabel Franco, the wife of Jose Mynor Lopez, who is still missing, told CBS News that the 35-year-old had a "good heart" and always "worried" about his family.

Four vehicles are also unaccounted for. Sonar scanning is ongoing for vehicles, human remains and debris that could potentially dislodge underwater.

Barge cranes near the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore.
Barge cranes near the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore. [Reuters]