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All Vessels Formerly Trapped by the Key Bridge Collapse Depart Port Ahead of Controlled Explosion

By Christine Condon and Dan Belson
The Baltimore Sun

(The Baltimore Sun) — All of the vessels that were trapped in the Port of Baltimore when the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed have now left their berths.

The last ship in that group departed Monday morning, hours before an explosion that cut apart a section of steel truss draped across the bow of the Dali, officials said at a news conference Monday, which featured former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has Baltimore roots, and Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, as well as local leaders and cleanup officials.

Alternate channels opened for ships to pass through the Key Bridge site temporarily closed Monday afternoon in advance of the detonation, which took place at 5 p.m., said Coast Guard Rear Adm. Shannon Gilreath, who is part of the Key Bridge Response Unified Command.

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Since the alternate channels were opened, some 365 commercial vessels have passed through, Gilreath said. The list includes 30 deep-draft vessels, such as container ships, said David O’Connell, captain of the port.

The last formerly trapped vessel to leave the port Monday morning was a coal ship, which had some mechanical problems that had to be fixed before it could depart, O’Connell said. That ship was among the deepest draft vessels stuck in port, at 47 feet.

Crews have made progress toward reopening the main channel that once carried ships beneath the Key Bridge but filled with wreckage when the collapse took place March 26. They have also recovered the bodies of all six construction workers who perished in the collapse.

So far, the channel has been deepened to 48 feet and widened to 350 feet, Gilreath said. Crews remain on target to reopen that channel by the end of May, when it must be 50 feet deep and 700 feet wide, Gilreath said.

“You can see visually and notice the difference over these last seven weeks,” Gilreath said. “You can see that almost all of the steel truss that was above the waterline across the entire bridge section has now been removed. And that’s been great progress.”

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But first, they must move the Dali, the container ship that struck the bridge nearly 50 days ago, toppling it into the Patapsco River. Monday’s detonation is a big step forward. Officials expect that in about two days, they will be able to refloat it and remove it from the area, Gilreath said.

During Monday’s news conference, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore spoke about the reasons weather has delayed the explosives operation. Crew members lifted by cranes have cut the holes for the explosives, working about 180 feet in the air, he said.

Gov. Wes Moore points out the risks faced by workers who, perched 180 feet in the air at the Francis Scott Bridge, will be involved in precision cutting to free the channel of wreckage. “So when you’re looking at wind gusts, when you’re looking at wind movements, when you’re looking at that height, regardless of the crane infrastructure that we have here — can have significant impacts on their ability to be able to smoothly, and also safely, make the type of cuts that are required and are necessary,” in addition to the fear of lightning strikes, he said.

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After the detonation’s aftermath is surveyed and the truss has been removed, the Dali will make its way back to the Seagirt Marine Terminal. Once it arrives, claimants will be able to board the ship for inspections for the first time. Temporary repairs could also take place at Seagirt, but the ship might have to move to a shipyard for further repairs.

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As crews on the water work to clear the channel, legislators are working to ensure the federal government pays the full cost of building a new bridge, which transportation officials estimated at up to $1.9 billion. Federal emergency relief funds are already expected to cover 90% of that cost, and a large amount of it is likely to be recouped through litigation and various insurance claims.

Last week, House Appropriations Committee members toured the bridge wreckage as they consider legislation that would cover 100% of the cost.

“We need the money today so we don’t delay in replacing the bridge that is so important to the artery of the East Coast,” Cardin said. “Those responsible, and those insurance claims, will help make sure the federal taxpayer gets the relief.”

Pelosi, a Baltimore native who now lives in and represents San Francisco, praised local leaders at Monday’s news conference for their efforts in response to the collapse.

“Thank you for providing a model to the nation on how to deal with a challenge … with speed but not at the sacrifice of safety,” she said.

©2024 The Baltimore Sun. Visit at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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