A tugboat pushing a fuel barge became the first vessel to travel through the small, temporary channel cleared near Sollers Point since the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed, according to an announcement late Monday from the joint information center for the agencies overseeing the operation.

The barge, which was pushed through the channel by tugboat Crystal Coast around 3 p.m. Monday, is used to supply jet fuel to the U.S. Department of Defense and was on its way to the Dover Air Force Base, the center said.

It was another sign of tangible progress at the round-the-clock salvage operation Monday, following earlier news that officials confirmed a 200-ton section of the fallen bridge had been removed.

Crews forged ahead through inclement weather, clearing debris from the bridge even as a storm system soaked the region with steady rainfall after a crane critical to the operation arrived over the Easter holiday weekend.

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“The work did not stop on surveying the area,” Gov. Wes Moore said Monday in a prepared statement. “The work did not stop on environmental monitoring. The work did not stop on developing better images of the wreckage so we can move forward in a safe and efficient way.”

The cleanup is expected to be complicated and has attracted the attention of top U.S. officials, including President Biden, who will visit the site of the collapsed bridge on Friday, White House officials said.

The temporary channel has a depth of 11 feet and is open only to vessels tied to ongoing salvage efforts. Other mariners and vessels are forbidden from entering a 2,000-yard “safety zone” without permission from the U.S. Coast Guard. Officials described the action as part of a phased approach to opening the main channel, but haven’t said when more commercial vessels could get access to the port.

In addition to clearing the small channel for salvage vessels, Moore said crews are creating an even deeper channel, with a depth of 15 feet, for larger vessels. He said that second channel will be open “in the coming days.”

The governor confirmed that crews cut away a piece of the north span of the Key Bridge, saying the operation took 10 hours. Crews planned to remove an even larger piece of the bridge, weighing about 350 tons, later Monday, Moore said, weather pending.

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“Unified Command said something that really struck me,” he said. “They said, ‘This was a relatively small lift.’ We’re talking 200 tons. That’s almost as heavy as the Statue of Liberty. And it’s just a small little piece of what we’re talking about. The scale of this project is enormous; even the small lifts are huge.”

Moore underscored the dangers and difficulties the salvage operation presents.

“I know there is an urgency to move fast,” he said. “Nobody feels that urgency more than the people up here right now. But we have to be clear on the stakes and the risks. This is a steel bridge, on top of a container ship, in the middle of the Patapsco River. We’re talking about tons of steel that is mangled and cantilevered. We’re talking about water that is so murky and filled with debris, divers can’t see more than one foot in front of them. We’re talking about a situation where the portion of the bridge beneath the water has been described by Unified Command as ‘chaotic wreckage.’ We’ve already lost six Marylanders because of this collapse. I’m not losing any more.”

The Key Bridge collapse cut off much of the Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore from the global shipping industry, though port docks for Tradepoint Atlantic in Sparrows Point remain in operation.

President Biden will get “an on-the-ground look” at federal agency efforts and meet with state and local officials who are also working on the response, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Monday. No further details about the president’s visit were immediately available. Biden had told reporters in passing last Friday that he was planning to visit.

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”As the president said within hours of the collapse, this administration will be with the people of Baltimore every step of the way,” Jean-Pierre said. “We are with you, Baltimore, and we will be there until we get this done.”

Jean-Pierre, who was briefing reporters at the White House, enumerated the various federal agencies that are helping in Baltimore, including the U.S Coast Guard, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Small Business Administration, which is opening a local office at 1501 S. Clinton St. in Baltimore to help affected business owners apply for low-interest disaster loans of up to $2 million from the federal government.

Moore said the SBA has received 57 applications for disaster loans from Maryland since Saturday, and will soon open a second location in Baltimore County. In addition to loans, he said, the offices will offer help with unemployment benefits and other resources.

Acting U.S. Labor Secretary Julie Su was in Baltimore Monday working with state officials on how best to help port workers who are without work due to the Port of Baltimore’s closure.

The suspension of shipping traffic in and out of the port is directly impacting thousands of jobs and about $2 million in wages every day, said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg on Wednesday.

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Baltimore City Budget Director Laura Larsen said it’s too soon to say what financial impact the collapse of the Key Bridge will have on city coffers.

Finance officials are tracking any costs associated with the response to see if changes should be made to Baltimore’s fiscal year 2025 budget proposal, she said.

”We’re following the protocols that we would utilize in a FEMA response, so that in the event we receive that declaration, we have all the records and documentation to receive a reimbursement,” she added.

As he presented his fiscal year 2025 budget, Mayor Brandon Scott stressed that is too soon to tell exactly how the collapse will affect city finances.

”A lot depends on how quickly businesses can resume in the port,” he said. “If I could come out here and tell you, it’d be great. But the reality is we need to stay on top of every detail.”

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