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State of Emergency

Six construction workers unaccounted for after Baltimore bridge hit by ship collapses

Two people had been rescued from the water so far, one of whom is in “a very serious condition”.

LAST UPDATE | 26 Mar

THERE HAVE BEEN no confirmed fatalities as a search and rescue mission is underway after a bridge in the US city of Baltimore collapsed into the Patapsco River when a large cargo ship collided with it. 

The US coast guard received a report of an impact at the Francis Scott Key Bridge at 1.27am Eastern time (5.27am Irish time), according to the New York Times. 

Footage of the incident shows the ship hitting a footing of the 3km bridge before a portion of it collapses into the river.

The crew of the ship had notified authorities of a “power issue” and that they had “lost power on the ship”, a news conference was told today.

US President Joe Biden today described the collapse of the bridge a “terrible accident,” and pledged to get the major port up and running as soon as possible.

Biden said he would send “all the federal resources” needed to handle the incident.

“I’m directing my team to move heaven and earth to reopen the port and rebuild the bridge as soon as humanly possible,” Biden said in a brief address from the White House, while acknowledging: “This is going to take some time.”

‘Bridge fully up to code’

The governor of Maryland Wes Moore has declared a state of emergency following the incident, while search and rescue efforts are continuing for six construction workers who were on the bridge at the time. 

Speaking to reporters at a news conference, Moore said the “bridge was fully up to code” and that the ship was coming in at a “very rapid speed” of eight knots (9 miles per hours).

The Maryland governor said lives were saved by the quick implementation of a mayday call to stop cars from crossing the bridge, and committed to rebuilding the bridge in a way that will “honour the community it serves”.

Moore added that emergency crews, including divers and air assets, are doing everything in their power to rescue victims of the collapse “literally as we speak”.

He also noted that the evidence gathered so far points to an accident and that there is “no credible evidence of a terrorist attack”. 

The FBI agent in charge of the Baltimore Field Office, Bill DelBagno, told the conference also noted that there is no evidence that this was terror-related.

He added that the FBI will bring all of its resources for “as long as it takes”.

There are currently six people who are unaccounted for, none of whom are in vehicles, and two people have been rescued from the water so far.

Sonar had detected multiple vehicles underwater.

One of those rescued refused any medical treatment and “was not injured”, while the other person was transferred to a local trauma centre and is in “a very serious condition”, according to Baltimore Fire Department chief James Wallace.

The six people who are unaccounted for are construction workers who were repairing potholes on the bridge at the time, according to Maryland Transportation Secretary Paul Wiedefeld.

Shipping in and out of Baltimore – one of the busiest ports in the United States – has also been suspended following the bridge’s collapse, according to Maryland’s transportation secretary.

“Vessel traffic into and out of the Port of Baltimore is suspended until further notice, but the port is still open for truck transactions,” Paul Wiedefeld told reporters.

Wiedefeld said there had been contractors working on the bridge at the time of the collapse, and said there were no “confirmed” fatalities at this time.

‘Unthinkable tragedy’

Brandon Scott, the mayor of Baltimore, called the incident “an unthinkable tragedy”. 

“We have to be thinking about the families and people impacted, folks who we have to try to find and save,” he said.

“This is what our focus should be on right now. We’re going to continue to work in partnership with every part of government to do everything that we can to get us through the other side of this tragedy.”

Earlier this morning, Kevin Cartwright, director of communications for the Baltimore Fire Department, told CNN that up to 20 people may be in the river, along with multiple vehicles, adding that officials are dealing with a “mass casualty multi-agency incident.”

“We understand that there could have potentially been a vehicle, a tractor trailer or a vehicle as large as a tractor trailer on the bridge at the time that it collapsed.”

He told CNN that the fire department is working with the US coast guard and a team of divers are in the river for search and rescue operations, with temperatures around the port at around -1 degree Celsius.

“It could be slightly lower than that, and I’m sure that the water temperature is even colder… That can pose a concern and risk for our divers,” he said. 

Cartwright told the Associated Press that it appears there are “some cargo or retainers hanging from the bridge”, creating unsafe and unstable conditions, and that emergency responders are operating cautiously as a result.

“This is a dire emergency,” he said.

State of emergency

Maryland Governor Wes Moore earlier declared a state of emergency. 

featureimage A portion of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland, collapsed after a large boat collided with it early this morning. PA PA

“We are working with an interagency team to quickly deploy federal resources from the Biden Administration,” he said.

It is understood that Biden will visit Baltimore in the coming days.

“We are thankful for the brave men and women who are carrying out efforts to rescue those involved and pray for everyone’s safety.

“We will remain in close contact with federal, state, and local entities that are carrying out rescue efforts as we continue to assess and respond to this tragedy.”

The Maryland Transportation Authority told drivers to avoid the bridge, part of the I-695 interstate highway, which it called an “active scene”.

Ship monitoring website MarineTraffic showed a Singapore-flagged container ship called the ‘Dali’ stopped under the bridge early today.

In a statement to BBC, shipping company Synergy Marine Group confirmed that its ship ‘Dali’ collided with a pillar of the bridge. 

“Whilst the exact cause of the incident is yet to be determined, the ‘Dali’ has now mobilised its Qualified Individual Incident response service,” it said. 

The shipping company confirmed that all crew members, including the two pilots who were aboard, have been accounted for and there are no reports of any injuries. 

The Francis Scott Key Bridge, which opened in 1977, carries more than 11 million vehicles a year.

It spans the Patapsco River, a vital artery that along with the Port of Baltimore is a hub for shipping on the East Coast of the US.

The bridge is named after the writer of the US national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner.

Additional reporting by Cormac Fitzgerald, Press Association and  © AFP 2024

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