Recovery efforts turned to a salvage operation on Thursday at the site of Baltimore’s collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge, where wreckage remains wedged in the path of the city’s shipping hub.

More bodies of construction workers on the bridge when it toppled may be trapped among the rubble, authorities said Wednesday, though divers are no longer able to safely search through the debris to find them.

“We have exhausted all search efforts in the areas around this wreckage,” said Col. Roland Butler, superintendent of state police. “And based on sonar scans, we firmly believe that the vehicles are encased in superstructure and concrete that we tragically saw come down.”

Butler said concrete and steel would have to be removed so that divers can safely work in the area again. Representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard confirmed that barges and cranes were en route to the site. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the U.S. Navy is sending barges, too.

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President Joe Biden’s administration on Thursday also granted a request from the state’s top transportation official to release $60 million in Federal Highway Administration emergency relief funding to support the bridge response and clearance effort. U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the federal government will do “everything it takes” to rebuild the bridge and reopen the shipping channel.

The grim change in strategy comes after a dayslong search for the remains of those thought to have fallen to their deaths during Tuesday’s morning disaster. Early Wednesday, divers located the bodies of Alejandro Hernandez Fuentes, 35, and Dorlian Ronial Castillo Cabrera, 26, inside a red pickup truck submerged in about 25 feet of water. Both were members of a construction crew filling potholes on the bridge when the 984-foot cargo ship Dali, apparently without power and the ability to steer, struck a bridge footing, causing it to crumble in seconds. Two people were rescued Tuesday, and four more remain missing and are presumed dead.

In addition to the human toll, the bridge’s collapse also brings acute implications for the regional and national economies. The Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore is partially shut down, and shipping traffic in and out of the port is suspended until further notice. Thousands of longshoremen at Port of Baltimore could face bleak months ahead.

Meanwhile, thousands of trucks must find a new route in a busy corridor of north-south highways, and cargo ships are turning away from Baltimore and heading to other American ports. The state of Maryland estimates that 140,000 jobs are linked to the Port of Baltimore, on top of the more than 15,000 people directly employed there.

Questions about the container ship and the structural integrity of the bridge have swirled in the aftermath of the collapse.

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Late Wednesday, the National Transportation Safety Board said the Key Bridge was “fracture critical,” meaning damage to one portion would cause the entire structure to fail. Jennifer Homendy, chair of the NTSB, said of the roughly 615,000 bridges in the country, about 17,000, or less than 3%, are fracture critical.

“The preferred method for building bridges today is that there is redundancy built in,” she said. “This bridge did not have redundancy.”

The bridge received a “fair condition” score from its last inspection in May 2023, according to a summary report from the federal government reviewed by The Banner. The report showed the bridge needed minor repairs but had scored high enough as to not require another inspection for two years.

The NTSB obtained the ship’s voyage data recorder Tuesday and sent it to a lab, which will examine it for clues as to why the ship went adrift as it departed the Port of Baltimore. Similar to an airplane’s flight data recorder or “black box,” the voyage data recorder logs key information about a ship, like audio from the bridge, radio transmissions and engine or rudder performance.

Investigators are also requesting records from myriad state and federal agencies. Homendy said a preliminary report would be issued in two to four weeks.

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NTSB investigator Marcel Muise confirmed the Dali lost power before striking the Key Bridge, but officials have not yet given a reason. The ship’s pilot, a local, tried to summon nearby tugboats and dropped anchor as a means of preventing striking the bridge, but his maneuvers were ineffective, Muise said. He confirmed the pilot warned Maryland Transportation Authority officials about the ship’s status, allowing MDTA officers to close the bridge to vehicle traffic before the Dali hit it.

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore speaks about the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse at a news conference on March 26. (Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)

Meanwhile, Moore said Wednesday that he submitted a request to the White House for emergency relief funds “to assist in all the work going forward,” he said.

”I do not know at this point what the total costs are going to be,” Moore said at the same press conference attended by Butler; Mayor Brandon Scott; Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen; and Tom Perez, senior adviser to President Joe Biden. Both Moore and Perez delivered part of their comments in Spanish. All six victims of the collapse were immigrants from Central America.

“I do not yet know what the full timeline is going to be,” Moore said. “But the thing that I do know is that the task in front of us, it will be real. It will be daunting … but I can tell you right now, our resolve is unshakeable. We will get to completion and we will do it together. This work will take time, but we’re going to make sure that we are going to leave no one behind. We are going to take care of our people.”

Ahead of the Baltimore Orioles’ opening day game against the Los Angeles Angels — where the three Maryland Transportation Authority police officers who stopped incoming traffic from driving onto the bridge within seconds of its collapse were honored during the game’s third inning — Moore reiterated the resolve.

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“Baltimore is being tested right now,” he said. “But Baltimore’s been tested before. And every time, we stand up on our two feet, dust ourselves off and move forward.”

Baltimore Banner reporter Kristen Griffith contributed to this report.

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