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Transportationby Fern Shen6:02 pmMar 27, 20240

Not even guesses by officials about how long it will take to remove the Dali – or rebuild the Key Bridge

At a news conference, federal officials face queries about hazardous materials still on the vessel and sidestep the question of whether measures should have been taken to protect the bridge piers from marine traffic

Above: The bow of container ship Dali, trapped by the remains of the Francis Scott Key Bridge it knocked down just outside of Baltimore. (National Transportation Safety Board)

Recovery efforts in Baltimore around the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge concluded today after harbor divers found a red pickup truck with two bodies inside.

The victims were identified as Alejandro Hernandez Fuentes, 35, of Baltimore, originally from Mexico, and Dorlian Ronial Castillo Cabrera, 26, of Dundalk, originally from Guatemala.

Crews had been looking to recover the bodies of six construction workers believed to have perished when a cargo ship crashed into the bridge where they were working and caused it to immediately collapse early Tuesday morning.

Maryland State Police said this evening they “had exhausted all efforts around the wreckage” and “firmly believe all the vehicles are encased in concrete” amid the wreckage.

Federal officials, meanwhile, provided a clearer picture of the condition of the ship, the Dali, now pinned in the shipping channel by the twisted metal remains of the bridge.

Addressing reporters at the White House, Vice Admiral Peter Gautier of the U.S. Coast Guard, offered some new information:

• The Dali is stable, though its bow “is sitting on the bottom because of the bridge debris.”

• It has about 1.5 million gallons of fuel oil and lube oil onboard.

• It also has 4,700 metal cargo boxes, of which 56 contain hazardous material. Two boxes with non-hazardous cargo went overboard and are still missing.

• There was no indication of flooding on the vessel or damage below the water line.

Environmental groups, including Blue Water Baltimore, have expressed concern about the potential environmental danger posed by the disabled ship.

For example, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has been cultivating an oyster restoration bed just a few hundred feet south of the bridge, located in the shallow waters around Fort Carroll, an abandoned military outpost. The bed currently hosts over 6 million young and vulnerable oysters.

The bridge's main span over the shipping channel on March 25, with Fort Carroll in the foreground. BELOW: The Key Bridge seen from Bear Creek at 4:30 p.m. on March 25. (Mark Reutter)

The bridge’s main span over the shipping channel at 3 p.m. on March 25, just hours before it was struck and destroyed. In the foreground is Fort Carroll. BELOW: The bridge as seen from Bear Creek at 4:30 p.m. on the same day. (Mark Reutter)

francis scoot key bridge 1

No Timelines Given

Gautier was asked today whether the materials pose any threat to the public.

“There is no threat to the public from the hazardous materials onboard,” he said. “Most of these things are things like mineral oils, and even though they’re hazardous, we’ve determined that there really isn’t any kind of threat to the public.”

Gautier and U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg were pressed harder on the question of when the Port of Baltimore could be reopened for shipping and when the bridge could be rebuilt

Neither would be pinned down to even vague timelines.

“Are we talking about weeks, months, years?” a reporter asked about the prospect for getting a replacement bridge built.

“It’s too soon to be certain,” Buttigieg replied. “What I’ll say is that the original bridge took five years to construct.”

Likewise, Buttigieg sidestepped questions about whether measures could have been taken over the past decade to better protect the bridge from such collisions.

After a similar collision in 2008 collapsed the Sunshine Skyway bridge in Tampa Bay, Florida, killing 35 people, the replacement bridge was protected with barriers to reduce the impact should a vessel collide with one of its piers.

Other bridges in the U.S., in the wake of that tragedy, were enhanced with a variety of barriers and other devices to protect them from water traffic.

The Key Bridge, although said by state officials to be considered structurally sound, does not appear to have had such enhancements.

“I think there’s a lot of debate taking place among the engineering community about whether any of those features could have played any role in a situation like this,” Buttigieg said, suggesting that no protective measures could have prevented collapse given the size of the Dali.

“It’s not just as big as a building. It’s really as big as a block,” he said. “It’s 100,000 tons all going into this pier, all at once.”

“I don’t want to get ahead of any investigation,” Buttigieg continued, noting that “part of what’s being debated is whether any design feature now known would have made a difference.”

The piers holding up the bridge above the shipping channel had minimal protection. BELOW: a closeup of the pier struck by the Dali, taken by The Brew on March 25, a day before the crash. (Mark Reutter

The piers holding up the main bridge above the shipping channel had little protection. BELOW: A closeup of the west-end pier struck by the Dali. These photos were taken by The Brew, out on another assignment, the afternoon before the bridge collapsed. (Mark Reutter)

francis scott key bridge pier

Police Scanner Transmissions

Officials were asked how sure they are that the construction workers were the only individuals that fell into the Patapsco River.

Did they know for sure that the vehicles seen plummeting from the bridge in video footage were only those of the construction crew?

“We’ve heard similar reports in the news,” Gautier answered.

“Basically, the Coast Guard is going off of the numbers of individuals that had been provided to us by the state of Maryland, as they were the ones who are administering the bridge,” he said.

Scanner traffic gives some clue about how Maryland Transportation Authority Police on the scene were able to keep cars from driving onto the bridge.

“I need one of you guys on the south side, one of you guys on the north side,” an officer radioed, after receiving information that the Dali had radioed to authorities saying it had lost power and was veering off course toward the bridge.

“Hold all traffic on the Key Bridge,” he said. “There’s a ship approaching that just lost their steering. So until they get that under control, we gotta stop all traffic.”

Maryland Governor Wes Moore yesterday called the officers “heroes,” saying they saved lives by holding back traffic.

The police, however, never made it to the construction crew filling potholes on the center span.

An officer offered to drive up and tell the workers to come off the bridge.

But before he could, a colleague was struggling to describe what he had just witnessed.

“The whole bridge just fell down.”

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