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Crews prepare for removal of twisted steel from collapsed bridge

                                Workers in a crane-held basket mark lines on a damaged section of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, today in Baltimore, Md.
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Workers in a crane-held basket mark lines on a damaged section of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, today in Baltimore, Md.

BALTIMORE >> Teams of engineers are working today on the intricate process of cutting and lifting the first section of twisted steel from the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge in Maryland,

The bridge crumpled into the Patapsco River on Tuesday after a massive cargo ship crashed into one of its main supports.

Crews are carefully measuring and cutting the steel from the broken bridge before attaching straps so it can be lifted onto a barge and floated away, U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Shannon Gilreath said Saturday.

Seven floating cranes — including a massive one capable of lifting 1,000 tons — 10 tugboats, nine barges, eight salvage vessels and five Coast Guard boats are on site in the water southeast of Baltimore.

Each movement affects what happens next and ultimately how long it will take to remove all the debris and reopen the ship channel and the blocked Port of Baltimore, Maryland Gov. 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.

Undeterred by the chilly morning weather, longtime Baltimore resident Randy Lichtenberg and others took cellphones photos or just quietly looked at the broken pieces of the bridge, which including its steel trusses, weigh as much as 4,000 tons.

“I wouldn’t want to be in that water. It’s got to be cold. It’s a tough job,” said Lichtenberg from a spot on the river called Sparrows Point.

The shock of waking up Tuesday morning to video of what he called an iconic part of the Baltimore skyline falling into the water has given way to sadness.

“It never hits you that quickly. It’s just unbelievable,” Lichtenberg said.

One of the first goals for crews on the water is to get a smaller auxiliary ship channel open so tugboats and other small barges can move freely. Crews also want to stabilize the site so divers can continue a search for four missing workers who are presumed dead.

Two workers were rescued from the water in the hours following the bridge collapse early Tuesday, and the bodies of two more were recovered from a pickup truck that fell and was submerged in the river. They had been filling potholes on the bridge and while police were able to stop vehicle traffic after the ship called in a mayday they could not get to the construction crew who were from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

The crew of the cargo ship Dali, which is managed by Synergy Marine Group, remains on board with the debris from the bridge around it. They are safe and are being interviewed. They are keeping the ship running as they will be needed to get it out of the channel once more debris has been removed. The vessel is owned by Grace Ocean Private Ltd. and was chartered by Danish shipping giant Maersk.

The collision and collapse appeared to be an accident that came after the ship lost power. Federal and state investigators are still trying to determine why.

Assuaging concern about possible pollution from the crash, Adam Ortiz, the Environmental Protection Agency’s mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator, said there was no indication in the water of active releases from the ship or materials hazardous to human health.

Officials are also trying to figure out how to handle the economic impact of a closed port and the severing of a major highway link. The bridge was completed in 1977 and carried Interstate 695 around southeast Baltimore.

Maryland transportation officials are planning to rebuild the bridge, promising to consider innovative designs or building materials to hopefully shorten a project that could take years.

President Joe Biden’s administration has approved $60 million in immediate aid and promised the federal government will pay the full cost to rebuild.

Ship traffic at the Port of Baltimore remains suspended, but the Maryland Port Administration said trucks were still being processed at marine terminals.

The 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 port handles more cars and more farm equipment than any other U.S. facility.

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