Demolition to remove part of Baltimore’s Key Bridge to free trapped ship postponed until Monday due to inclement weather

The planned demolition to remove a portion of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Maryland has been rescheduled to Monday afternoon due to inclement weather conditions, according to the United States Coast Guard.

Crews were expected Sunday evening to use small explosives to break apart a massive chunk of the Baltimore bridge that collapsed on a cargo ship six weeks ago after the US Coast Guard previously pushed back the controlled demolition by an hour.

The operation was originally to take place Saturday, but officials on Friday announced it would be postponed due to an adverse weather forecast.

The explosion is now slated to take place at 5 p.m. ET on Monday, according to the Coast Guard.

The planned demolition is aimed at helping officials remove debris and ultimately free the 213-million-pound Dali cargo ship, which veered off course March 26 and struck a pillar of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, causing it to fall into the water below. The collapse killed six construction workers and destroyed a key thoroughfare, threatening the economy at the Port of Baltimore.

Sunday’s weather in the Baltimore area – which included lightning strikes – is what led officials to hold off on the demolition.

“We were all set to do the precision cuts … today,” Nick Ameen with the US Coast Guard told reporters Sunday. “There’s several factors, environmental factors among them, that have unfortunately pushed that event until tomorrow.”

Ameen called the process a “dynamic” one and said, “We will absolutely not sacrifice safety for speed.”

He added: “Whenever there’s a lightning strike in the area, that pushes the clock back, and so that clock just kept getting pushed back and pushed back.”

Officials last week recovered the sixth and final body, allowing them to proceed with the plan to free the Dali. If the operation succeeds this weekend, the ship could be refloated and returned to the Port of Baltimore as soon as this week, The Baltimore Sun and CNN affiliate WBAL previously reported.

“The safest and swiftest method to remove the bridge piece from on top of the M/V Dali is by precision cuts made with small charges,” the Key Bridge Response Unified Command said in a news release last week.

“This is an industry-standard tool in controlled demolition that will break the span into smaller pieces,” it added, “which will allow the work of refloating the vessel and removing it from the federal channel.”

Salvage crew members work on the deck of the cargo ship Dali on Friday, May 10, 2024. - Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images
Salvage crew members work on the deck of the cargo ship Dali on Friday, May 10, 2024. - Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

According to an infographic from the US Army and the US Army Corps of Engineers, the process will “look like multiple puffs of smoke and sound like fireworks.” Nearby communities should receive a “cellular notification” beforehand, according to Unified Command, which includes state and federal authorities, the US Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers among them.

The 21 members of the ship’s crew – who have not left the ship since it struck the bridge in late March – will remain onboard during the operation, according to Darrel Wilson, a spokesperson for Synergy Marine Group, which manages the Dali.

“They will have a safe place on the vessel where they can shelter during the controlled explosion,” Wilson said, adding that the crew was “holding up well” despite the stress of recent weeks.

“Even though they are not sailing, they are still performing their normal crew duties,” Wilson said. “This is still a large, complicated piece of equipment and there is a lot they have to look after.”

While the Dali’s management company has tried to support the crew on board, members of Baltimore’s seafaring community remain concerned for their wellbeing given the length of time they’ve been aboard the ship.

Rev. Josh Messick, executive director of the Baltimore International Seafarers’ Center, told CNN the crew is well taken care of but feels disconnected from the rest of the world. They have internet access, thanks to hotspots Messick’s group helped deliver, but they do not have their cellphones, which were confiscated by authorities as part of the investigation.

“They are a little anxious because of the phone situation. We are trying to get their cellphones back to them,” Messick said. “It’s not just a phone, they can’t access their online banking, their finances, their contacts, they can’t look at photos of their loved ones before they go to sleep at night. It’s a lot more than just a phone.”

In the meantime, several investigations continue into the cause of the disaster and who is responsible. The House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure plans to hold a hearing Wednesday on the catastrophe, with testimony expected from the chair of the National Transportation Safety Board and officials from the Coast Guard, Army Corps of Engineers and the US Department of Transportation.

CNN’s Paradise Afshar, Holly Yan and Dakin Andone contributed to this report.

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