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Baltimore bridge: Crews to lift first piece of wreckage

March 31, 2024

The process of cleaning the debris from the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge is "remarkably complex" and will dictate how long it takes to reopen the port.

A crane stands by at Tradepoint Atlantic terminal near the wreckage of the Francis Scott Key Bridge
There were seven floating cranes present at the wreckage site including a massive one which could lift 1,000 tonsImage: Julia Nikhinson/AP Photo/picture alliance

Engineers and cleanup crews worked on Saturday to begin the process of cutting and lifting the first section of the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore. It's the first step in a complex effort to reopen the city's blocked port.

Sparks could be seen flying from a section of the crumpled steel on Saturday afternoon while a video released by officials in the evening showed workers using a cutting torch to slice through the thick beams.

This work was being done on the north side of the structure, the joint command said in a statement, days after the bridge collapsed into the Patapsco River. The accident took place when a cargo vessel crashed into one of its supports. 

After US bridge collapse, crane begins clearing wreckage

What do we know about the cleanup efforts?

Seven floating cranes, 10 tugboats, nine barges, eight salvage vessels and five Coast Guard boats were on site.

Workers were carefully measuring and cutting twisted steel from the broken bridge before attaching straps to lift the scrap to a flat-bottomed barge, said Coast Guard Rear Admiral Shannon Gilreath.

Precision in the crew's work is important because each move dictates the next and eventually how long it takes to restore the site, Maryland Governor Wes Moore said.

"I cannot stress enough how important today and the first movement of this bridge and of the wreckage is. This is going to be a remarkably complicated process," Moore said. 

One of the first aims of the salvage team is to resume a smaller channel of movement so that tugboats and small barges can move through. They also want to stabilize the site of the collapse so that divers can once again search for four missing people who have been presumed dead.

The timeline of this process, however, is not clear.

"It's not going to take hours," Moore said. "It's not going to take days, but once we complete this phase of the work, we can move more tugs and more barges and more boats into the area to accelerate our recovery."

Workers, as of now, are not attempting to clean up the crumpled part of the bridge which rests on the bow of Dali, the Singapore-flagged container ship that brought down the bridge.

Economic impact

Jobs of some 15,000 people whose work revolves around daily port operations in Baltimore are on hold.

While logistics experts expect other ports to be able to handle container traffic, Baltimore is the largest US port for "roll-on, roll-off" vehicle imports and exports of farm and construction equipment.

On Thursday, the federal government awarded Maryland an initial $60 million in emergency funds to clear debris and begin rebuilding the Key Bridge. 

US President Joe Biden has pledged that the federal government would cover all costs of removing the debris and rebuilding the bridge. 

How will Baltimore bridge collapse affect global economy?

mk/sms (AP, Reuters)