Massive crane arrives to clean up Baltimore bridge collapse

A floating crane that officials said was one of the largest on the East Coast arrived at the site of the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse in Baltimore on Friday, part of a large flotilla being assembled to clear debris that has crippled one of the nation’s largest ports and spread economic pain.

The Chesapeake 1000, which can lift 1,000 tons, will play a featured role in the cleanup from the disaster, but Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D) said Friday it will be joined by 10 other cranes, 10 tugs, nine barges, eight salvage vessels and five Coast Guard boats that will arrive over the next several days.

But even as officials raced to restore access to the Port of Baltimore, which generates thousands of jobs and handles tens of billions of dollars worth of cargo each year, the Chesapeake 1000 sat idle Friday, underscoring the complexity, length and danger of the operation.

Officials said they couldn’t move forward with clearing debris until they had finished a careful assessment of the scene, where massive trusses sit twisted in 50-foot water and a large section of the Key Bridge is draped precariously across the bow of the cargo ship that struck it Tuesday.

The assessment included divers below the surface of the Patapsco River, survey boats and an FBI helicopter, which buzzed over the 985-foot Dali container vessel collecting images that would be used to figure out how to carefully and safely remove the steel and concrete.

Moore once again declined to offer a timeline to recover from the disaster, as he and other officials have repeatedly done in the days after the disaster.

“It is not going to be days or weeks or months,” he said. “This is going to take time.”

He and other state and federal officials spoke at a windswept news conference near the towering Chesapeake 1000 at Tradepoint Atlantic, a deepwater port that is the only shipping site still accessible by water in the Port of Baltimore. Officials said they hope to tap it more extensively while the rest of the port remains inaccessible.

During the update, an official from the Environmental Protection Agency addressed one of the most pressing concerns about the Dali: its 764 tons of hazardous materials that remain onboard. Earlier in the week, an official from the National Transportation Safety Board said some of the 56 cargo containers containing corrosives, flammable liquids and lithium ion batteries had broken open, and she had noticed a sheen on the Patapsco.

Adam Ortiz, the EPA’s Mid-Atlantic regional administrator, said testing of the water did not show major issues.

“At this time, there is no indication of active releases from the vessel nor is there presence of materials that are hazardous to human health in the water,” Ortiz said.

Video from the scene shows the aftermath of the collapsed Baltimore Key Bridge on March 26. (Video: Reuters)

Coast Guard Rear Adm. Shannon Gilreath said at the news conference the recovery will move forward in three phases — clearing the channel so the port can resume some shipping, freeing the Dali and moving it, and finally clearing the remaining debris from the river and its bed.

Gilreath said that includes breaking “the bridge up into right-size pieces that we can lift.” Moore said the section of the Key Bridge resting on the Dali weighs between 3,000 and 4,000 tons, illustrating the challenge that lies ahead.

Col. Roland L. Butler Jr. of the Maryland State Police said divers are on standby to recover the bodies of bridge workers who were lost in the Patapsco River once conditions permit and the cleanup reaches the right point. Two of the six workers have been recovered. Officials said Wednesday night they had discovered what appeared to be a large vehicle stuck in the wreckage of the bridge at the bottom of the Patapsco.

Meanwhile, President Biden told reporters Friday that he plans to visit Baltimore next week with Moore.

Andrew Middleton, the director of a Christian ministry in Dundalk, Md., said he had been in touch with crew members aboard the Dali on Friday morning. The 21-member crew, most of whom are Indian, will remain on the ship.

Middleton said Friday that the crew requested WiFi and new SIM cards to communicate with family back home. The ministry director said he knows the crew has a TV on board but was trying to figure out whether they had access to live local programming.

Middleton said he is coordinating with other ministries and local companies to get WiFi, SIM cards and antennae to the crew members. He expected the first delivery to go out Saturday.

After federal officials allocated $60 million in emergency funding for bridge recovery Thursday, former Maryland governor and current Republican U.S. Senate candidate Larry Hogan said in an interview with Fox News that he would “push” his party to fully fund the reconstruction of the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

“I’m going to push them as hard as I can,” he said. “I already called a couple of Republican Senate leaders. I started working them.”

Emily Davies contributed to this report.

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