Distress call precedes disaster at Baltimore bridge

Distress call precedes disaster at Baltimore bridge

A view of the Key Bridge, which collapsed early Tuesday morning after it was struck by a ship. (Sapna Bansil/Capital News Service)

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By Angelique Gingras, Steph Quinn, Sapna Bansil, Lydia Hurley, Tyrah Burris, Kiersten Hacker and Emma Tufo

Capital News Service

BALTIMORE – A container ship leaving the Port of Baltimore sounded a mayday call just before plowing into the Francis Scott Key Bridge in the early morning hours Tuesday, collapsing a fixture of the local landscape and prompting a rescue mission for an overnight road crew at work on the bridge at the time of the crash.

The last-minute warning likely saved countless lives by alerting officials to divert traffic away from the bridge, but rescue teams spent the entire day searching for at least six individuals who were part of the construction crew.

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, who arrived in Baltimore Tuesday morning, said those aboard the ship alerted authorities they had a “power issue” shortly before the collision.

As a result of the last-minute warning, “local authorities were able to close the bridge to traffic before the bridge was struck, which undoubtedly saved lives,” President Joe Biden told reporters later that afternoon.

Several road workers were fixing potholes on the bridge at the time of the collapse, according to Paul J. Wiedefeld, Maryland secretary of transportation. Two people were rescued from the water shortly after the collision, officials said.

While the investigation is just beginning, authorities said all signs point to an accident. An FBI spokesperson said there is no evidence this was an act of terrorism. The bridge, which opened 47 years ago this week, was fully up to code, according to Moore.

“To hear the words that the key bridge has collapsed, it’s shocking,” the governor told reporters. “The words that the key bridge is gone, it still shakes us …This is not just unprecedented, it’s heartbreaking.”

Biden addressed reporters Tuesday afternoon, calling on Congress to support reconstruction of the bridge with federal funding. The bridge is crucial for travel through Baltimore and throughout the country’s northeast corridor, he said, while the Port of Baltimore functions as a critical part of the nation’s economy.

“We’re going to spend all the federal resources (the state) needs as we respond to this emergency. I mean, all federal resources,” said Biden. “We’re going to reopen the port and rebuild the bridge as soon as humanly possible.”

Baltimore City Fire Chief James Wallace said the ship struck a column of the bridge in the 1 a.m. hour, causing a major portion of it to snap. Entrances to the bridge were immediately shut down and traffic on this span of I-695 was redirected through the I-95 and I-895 tunnels.

Rescue efforts were then coordinated by several first responding agencies in the city of Baltimore and Harford County, along with the U.S. Coast Guard.

One patient from the incident was taken to the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center at the University of Maryland Medical Center, a hospital spokesperson confirmed with Capital News Service.

Synergy Marine Group, the company responsible for the ship’s management, said in a statement that all crew members and two pilots were accounted for and no injuries were reported.

Dundalk residents gathered along the highway leading to the bridge Tuesday afternoon. Many of them had woken up to the sound of rumbling in the early hours of the morning.

Harvey Brice, 73, of Dundalk, said he heard “a tremendous noise.”

“It kind of trembled the house a little bit,” said Brice.

Amanda Peters, 44, of Dundalk, heard what she said “sounded like this long thunder, but it didn’t make sense. It didn’t sound like a normal sound from the port. It just was a constant like, it’s hard to describe it. It was so loud but it continued for so long.”

Camille Sims, 23, of Glen Burnie, who works in Baltimore and frequently drives the bridge, said she was awake and felt her house shake after 1 a.m.

“My house just started shaking a little bit. It wasn’t crazy, like earthquake shaking, it was just like moving and I was confused,” she said.

Several government officials issued statements in response to the incident.

“Having worked in that area most of my life, I understand the bridge’s vital role for Baltimore’s Port and commuters,” State Sen. Johnny Ray Salling, whose district includes the bridge, said in a statement. “Losing this bridge will devastate the entire area, as well as the entire East Coast. We depend on the Port of Baltimore for transportation, travel, and commerce.”

State House Republicans also released a joint statement, saying “while this horrendous incident will require a full investigation, right now our focus must be on the victims, their families, and making sure they get the care and services they need. We must also take a moment to acknowledge the bravery of our heroic first responders currently working on rescue efforts.”

An investigation into the incident is now in the hands of the National Transportation Safety Board, who will evaluate what the conditions of both the vessel and the bridge were leading up to the collision.

About The Author

Capital News Service

aflynn1@umd.edu

Capital News Service is a student-powered news organization run by the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism. With bureaus in Annapolis and Washington run by professional journalists with decades of experience, they deliver news in multiple formats via partner news organizations and a destination Website.

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