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A giant crane arrives in Baltimore, but leaders see ‘arduous’ cleanup work ahead

The wreckage of the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge lies on top of the container ship Dali on March 29, 2024, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Mandel Yan/AFP via Getty Images

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Mandel Yan/AFP via Getty Images

The wreckage of the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge lies atop the container ship Dali in Baltimore, Maryland, on March 29, 2024.

Mandel Yan/AFP via Getty Images

A massive floating crane capable of lifting 1,000 tons at a time has arrived at the site of the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge as authorities scramble to reopen the main shipping channel to the Port of Baltimore.

But even that crane couldn’t move all the twisted steel on the Dali cargo ship’s bow.

“This portion of the bridge weighs over 4,000 tons,” Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said in an interview that aired Saturday on NPR’s Weekend Edition.

“We have to at least cut this part of the bridge into four different members and then safely lift it off the ship and remove it so we can start the rest of the work,” Spelmon said.

Federal funds and resources are beginning to flow to Maryland as authorities plan how to dismantle the crippled ship and return the nation’s ninth-largest port to normal operations. But they acknowledge that the effort won’t be easy, cheap or fast.

Thousands of tons of steel and concrete are currently blocking the main channel of the Patapsco River, three days after a large cargo ship hit the bridge.

“When you get out there and look up close, you realize what a monumental undertaking this is,” Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said Friday at a news conference near the port, where huge cranes loomed in the background. The work before us is difficult. “

BALTIMORE, MD – MARCH 29: A crane removes debris from the Francis Scott Key Bridge on March 29, 2024 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

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BALTIMORE, MD – MARCH 29: A crane removes debris from the Francis Scott Key Bridge on March 29, 2024 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Kevin Dickey/Getty Images

The nearly 1,000-foot-long cargo ship remains stuck in the river, with the remains of a bridge on its bow pinning it to the bottom. Authorities said some of the ship’s approximately 4,000 containers were dislodged in the collision. , some were already in the water, or hanging precariously over the side of the boat.

Authorities say their priority is to reopen the waterway as soon as possible. But first, they had to clear the river of boats and debris.

When asked how long that would take, Spellmon said it was unclear but said the work would likely be done in phases.

The first step is to “remove the portion of the bridge that currently covers the front of the Dali ship,” Spermon said. He said the channel may initially be opened to one-way traffic before being able to accommodate two ships at a time.

U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Shannon Gillies said authorities were still studying how to best utilize giant cranes and other available resources.

“Before we can actually do the lifting, we have to go through the process of evaluating the bridge and the parts of the bridge that are in the water,” Gillies said Thursday.

But completing this assessment will be difficult. Moore said the divers had to work carefully and methodically because the water around the wreckage was dark and full of debris and they could only see a foot or two ahead.

The Biden administration has allocated $60 million in federal emergency funding to Maryland, but that’s only a fraction of what it will cost to remove and replace the bridge.

“This is a down payment,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said. In an interview with NPR All circumstances have been considered“We still don’t know what the total cost will be.”

Maritime experts say lawsuits over liability for accidents could take years or even decades to resolve.

“My hope is that any private group that may be found responsible will be held accountable,” Buttigieg told NPR. “But the problem is, we can’t wait until those accountability processes are ironed out and resolved before we can start working and Fix this problem.” Bridge came back. “

State and local authorities also declined to say how long it would take to replace the bridge or how much it would ultimately cost.

Civil engineers say building a new bridge could take years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

“You’re talking about 350 million to 600 million replacements,” University of Kentucky civil engineering professor L. Sebastian Bryson said in 2017. Interviewed by NPR morning edition“I think because it’s such an important bridge, it’s probably going to be done quickly. So the reconstruction will probably take about two to three years.”

The Biden administration may be able to pay for some of these costs through emergency funding that does not require congressional approval. But sooner or later the White House will have to ask lawmakers to approve additional funding. That may be difficult for Republicans to accept on Capitol Hill, especially in a presidential election year.

That’s likely why Maryland’s elected officials have been emphasizing the Port of Baltimore’s importance to the state’s economy.

“This is affecting supply chains across the country, in every state in the United States,” said Congressman Kweisi Mfume, whose district includes parts of Baltimore, as well as Dundalk, Maryland, and other states that rely on it. A community with a collapsed bridge. Quick action must be taken to clear the channel. “

The Coast Guard said it was monitoring the “Dali” for any leaks of hazardous materials.

Authorities said 56 containers on the ship contained some type of hazardous substance. The Coast Guard said 13 of the containers were “impacted” in some way by the bridge strike, including soap products, perfume and an unspecified item. resin.

There was a noticeable sheen on the water, but Gillies said it was likely caused by about 20 gallons of oil leaking from damaged equipment at the front of the boat.

A statement said the Coast Guard has been conducting air monitoring on Dali Island and its surrounding areas through contractors and has found no leakage of harmful or flammable substances.

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