Crews worked through the day to remove the first section of the Francis Scott Key Bridge from the Patapsco River in hopes of clearing channels to resume traffic at one of the nation’s busiest ports.

State and federal officials on Saturday declined to provide a timeline for when the channels might reopen, though, emphasizing the complicated nature of the work and the need to do it in a way that protects everyone’s safety.

“I cannot stress enough how important today and the first movement of this bridge and of the wreckage is. This is going to be a remarkably complicated process,” Gov. Wes Moore said at a press conference along the Patapsco River, with the fallen bridge in the background. “We know that today is a remarkably important moment but one that is going to take further evaluation as to what type of impact it’s going to have on the remainder of the mission.”

Once crews remove the piece, officials said, it will head to Tradepoint Atlantic in Sparrows Point, and then be hauled away. Though the Unified Command handling the response has a 1,000-ton crane at its disposal, U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Shannon Gilreath said the crews are using a 160-ton crane to remove the first piece of wreckage.

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Clearing out the piece will allow for an auxiliary channel to enable more salvage apparatus to enter the port and could eventually open a small amount of port traffic. Coast Guard officials stressed that work would occur simultaneously with efforts to reopen the deep channel, a conduit for much of the nation’s vehicles, farm equipment and other consumer goods.

The cleanup is a massive undertaking that includes 377 people from nearly a dozen federal and state agencies, several floating cranes, 10 tugboats, nine barges, eight salvage vessels and five Coast Guard boats. It has been an all-hands-on-deck, 24-hour-a-day effort since early Tuesday morning, when the 984-foot cargo ship Dali crashed into the Key Bridge, sending seven construction workers into the water and immobilizing one of the nation’s largest maritime thruways.

Emergency responders rescued one of the workers quickly, and they recovered two bodies days later. Rescuers cannot search for the four other men at present because of the debris in the water and the poor visibility, officials said.

Moore also announced that the Small Business Administration accepted his request to approve a disaster declaration, and that businesses harmed by the disaster can apply for up to $2 million in low-interest loans. That’s in addition to the $60 million that President Joe Biden’s administration has approved in immediate aid, as well as his promise that the government will pay the full cost to rebuild the bridge.

Those who want to apply should submit their requests to More than 8,000 workers have jobs affected by the Key Bridge collapse, Moore said. That includes shipping, trucking, maritime and fuel industries spanning the communities in northern Anne Arundel County, Eastern Baltimore County and Baltimore City.

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The remnants of the Key Bridge is viewed through the cherry blossoms at Fort McHenry on March 30, 2024.
The remnants of the Key Bridge as seen through the cherry blossoms at Fort McHenry on March 30, 2024. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

Moore also stressed the area above the bridge was a no-drone zone.

“This is not a game, and please do not test my seriousness on this,” he said. “The instructions are simple, and they must be followed. All drones are to stay away from the site of the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse. Period and full stop.”

Ship traffic at the Port of Baltimore remains suspended, but the Maryland Port Administration said trucks were being processed at marine terminals.

The loss of a bridge that carried 30,000 vehicles a day and the port disruption will affect not only thousands of dockworkers and commuters but also U.S. consumers, who are likely to feel the impact of shipping delays. The port handles more new cars and farm equipment than any other U.S. facility.

Moore said the Unified Command’s four priorities are: continuing the recovery effort, clearing the channel to open vessel traffic, taking care of the people harmed by the collapse and rebuilding the Francis Scott Key Bridge. He emphasized all of that would take time and, for most of it, he could not say how much. Diving to recover the workers is the highest priority as soon as it’s safe to do so, he said. Moore and Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott offered prayers for the family members and encouraged the community to keep them in mind on Easter.

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The Unified Command is maintaining a 2,000-yard maritime safety zone for the Dali recovery efforts, along with a temporary flight restriction with a radius of three nautical miles from the surface, up to and including 1,500 feet above ground level. It is working with Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. to reduce pressure of an underwater pipeline spanning the width of the channel running under the incident site, which is not a concern at this time.

A crane arrives to begin clean up of the collapse of the Key Bridge on March 30, 2024
A crane arrives at the site of the collapsed Key Bridge in the Patapsco River to begin cleanup on March 30, 2024. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

Already, one community south of the bridge is reporting debris from the collapse on its shores. Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman confirmed he had received reports that Riviera Beach in Pasadena had reported bridge debris, and state Department of the Environment officials said they were looking into the reports. Pittman could not confirm the debris was from the bridge, though, only that neighbors reported it was.

Meanwhile, Republican members of Congress have spent the days since the Key Bridge collapse taking to Twitter and right-wing television to condemn Biden for promising to fund the rebuilding process. And, while the Minneapolis bridge collapse in 2007 generated a bipartisan package to rebuild within days, Baltimore’s bridge is not engendering that kind of cooperation. Rep. Dan Meuser, a Pennsylvania Republican, called it “outrageous” that Biden would use federal funds to rebuild the bridge.

Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina agreed, telling Fox Digital: “While I mourn the lives lost in Baltimore, we cannot haphazardly spend over $1 billion as America is $34 trillion in debt. Before we spend one more dime for domestic infrastructure, we must build a domestic border wall.”

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U.S. Sen Chris Van Hollen was optimistic that he and Rep. Kweisi Mfume, who represents the area, would be able to implore their colleagues to come together and help Baltimore.

“This is a great American city, and this is a great American port. And I really hope my colleagues will come together as Americans.”

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