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What we know about the Baltimore bridge collapse


By Holly Yan and Yahya Abou-Ghazala, CNN

(CNN) — A massive cargo ship plowed into Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge early Tuesday, causing the 1.6-mile structure to crumble like a pile of toothpicks – plunging cars and people into the frigid water below.

The bodies of two people were recovered from the Patapsco River on Wednesday as officials searched the water. The men, a 35-year-old and a 26-year-old, were found trapped in a red pickup at the middle of the fallen bridge, according to the Maryland State Police.

Superintendent Col. Roland L. Butler said during a Wednesday news conference the search and recovery efforts have paused for the four additional people who were on the structure and they are presumed dead.

Here’s what we know about the catastrophe and what’s next:

Why did the bridge collapse?

Shortly before 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, a Singaporean-flagged container vessel called Dali struck one of the 47-year-old bridge’s pillars, officials said.

The ship is about 984 feet long – almost the length of three football fields. At the time of the crash, the Dali weighed 95,000 gross tons – or 213 million pounds – and was chartered to carry cargo by Danish shipping giant Maersk.

“Just minutes before (hitting) the bridge, there was a total blackout on the ship, meaning that the ship lost engine power and electrical power. It was a complete blackout,” said Clay Diamond, executive director and general counsel of the American Pilots Association.

The pilot then did “everything that he could have done” to slow the ship down and keep it from veering toward the bridge pillar, Diamond said.

Moments before the disaster, video footage shows the lights on the vessel flickering off and on – likely due to an emergency generator activating after the initial blackout, Diamond said. But the ship’s engines never turned on again.

Instead of crossing under the center of the bridge, where the clearance was highest, the ship drifted to the right and crashed into a pillar.

“If you look at it, it’s off center of where it should be,” Maryland Transportation Secretary Paul J. Wiedefeld told CNN.

“Obviously, it should be in the main channel, which is under that main span.”

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore confirmed the Dali had lost engine power.

“As a result (of the momentary loss of power), it was unable to maintain the desired heading and collided with the Francis Scott Key bridge,” the agency said in a statement, citing information from the ship’s management company – Synergy Marine Pte Ltd.

Who are the victims?

Eight workers were on the bridge filling potholes when it collapsed. Two survived.

The bodies of two workers were recovered shortly before 10 a.m. on Wednesday and were identified as 35-year-old Alejandro Hernandez Fuentes, from Mexico, and 26-year-old Dorlian Ronial Castillo Cabrera, from Guatemala, said Butler, with the state police.

After a day-long search, officials called off the rescue mission Tuesday evening.

It was virtually impossible to survive the frigid, 50-foot-deep water after several hours, and it was too dangerous for divers to navigate the dark water amid sharp debris from the crash.

The victims include immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

Search efforts for the other four workers have paused because additional vehicles are encased in concrete and other debris, making it unsafe for divers, Butler said Wednesday.

“Now, once that salvage effort takes place and that superstructure is removed, those same divers are gonna go back out there and bring those people closure,” Butler added.

Miguel Luna, a father of three from El Salvador who had lived in Maryland for more than 19 years, went to work on the bridge and never came home, according to CASA, a non-profit that provides critical services to working-class and immigrant families.

Maynor Yassir Suazo Sandoval, 38, was from Honduras but had been a US resident for the past 18 years, his brother told CNN. Suazo was married and had two children – an 18-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Guatemala identified one of the missing construction workers as a 26-year-old originally from San Luis, Petén, and the other as a 35-year-old from Camotán, Chiquimula.

Two of the missing victims are Mexican nationals, according to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

But “we know our people are involved,” Rafael Laveaga, Chief of the Consular Section of Mexico’s Embassy in Washington, said. “It was a crew who was repairing parts of the potholes on the bridge, and they’re the ones who are going to build the bridge again – the Latinos.”

Two people who were on the bridge were rescued from the Patapsco River, Baltimore City Fire Chief James Wallace said Tuesday morning. One of them was not injured, and the other was taken to a trauma center. The hospitalized patient was later discharged, the University of Maryland Medical Center said.

Brawner Builders Executive Vice President Jeffrey Pritzker told CNN that among the eight people on the bridge were seven of his employees. Just one survived.

No one aboard the Dali vessel was injured, according to Synergy Group.

How dangerous is the water?

The Patapsco River under the Key Bridge was rife with hazards – for both the construction workers who vanished and for the rescue crews who tried to save them.

When crews arrived Tuesday morning, the surface water temperature of the Patapsco River was about 47 degrees, the fire chief said.

Any prolonged exposure to water under 55 degrees can be deadly, the National Weather Service said. Swimmers without floatation can survive in water temperatures of 40 to 50 degrees for about 30 to 60 minutes, according to the University of Minnesota.

And the deeper you go in the river, the colder and darker it gets – making the divers’ job more perilous, Wallace said.

There’s also sharp debris from the crash that might not be visible under water. And more pieces of the bridge or the ship could fall at any moment.

There’s a lot of instability with steel portions of the bridge that are hanging from other pieces of unsupported debris, Wallace told “Anderson Cooper 360.” There’s also a “steel superstructure” on the bow of the Dali that is “very unstable,” as well as containers hanging off the vessel, the fire chief said.

Is there a hazmat risk?

There is no hazmat threat to the public, Coast Guard Vice Adm. Peter Gautier said Wednesday.

Of the ship’s 4,700 cargo containers, only two went missing overboard – and neither contains hazardous materials, Gautier said. He said the vessel does have more than 1.5 million gallons of oil on board, but they remain stable.

The US Coast Guard detected an oil sheen on the water near the wreckage on Tuesday, but the source of the fuel has not been determined, USCG Petty Officer Kimberly Reaves said.

There are no drinking water intakes near the site of the crash that could compromise drinking water quality, said US Environmental Protection Agency spokesperson Shaun Eagan.

The Coast Guard had been examining 13 damaged containers – some with potentially hazardous materials – that were on the container ship that crashed into the bridge, according to a US government document obtained by CNN and a US official familiar with the matter.

But the “majority” of the containers carrying hazardous materials “are closer to the pilot house and are completely unaffected by the damage to the bow of the ship,” Gautier said.

Was this an accident or an intentional act?

There is no indication the ship’s crash and the bridge collapse were intentional, state and federal officials said.

“The preliminary investigation points to an accident,” Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said Tuesday. “We haven’t seen any credible evidence of a terrorist attack.”

But there are multiple reasons why the FBI responded, former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe said.

“The first is because when you have an event like this that calls for a massive response (and) resources, all of the local law enforcement entities, federal entities, whoever’s in the area, because of mutual aid agreements, will show up and contribute whatever resources they have,” McCabe told CNN.

Second, the FBI can help confirm whether the disaster was intentional.

“They will look through all their intelligence holdings to see if there’s any chatter talking about plans or targeting, about locations like this, to see if there’s anything in the background that we should have been aware of and watching for,” McCabe said.

“Obviously, we’ve heard from numerous officials that that is not the case at this point.”

What happens next?

The National Transportation Safety Board is leading the investigation into the accident, NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy said.

Officials have secured the ship’s data recorder, or black box, which will help investigators develop a timeline of events leading up to the crash, Homendy told CNN on Wednesday.

The NTSB will also interview members of the ship’s crew, she said.

“We have a team of 24 on scene,” Homendy said Tuesday afternoon. The team includes experts in nautical operations, who will collect information on vessel operations, safety history, the ship’s owner, the operator, company policy and any safety management system.

“We also have a highway safety team … including structural engineers, bridge experts who will be here and are continuing to come in,” Homendy said.

US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said there will be a major, protracted impact on supply chains and the path to “normalcy” will be difficult.

“It will not be quick. It will not be inexpensive. But we will rebuild together,” he said. But “it’s too soon to offer estimates on what it will take to clear the channel and reopen the port.”

President Joe Biden said he’s committed to helping rebuild the bridge as soon as possible.

“It’s my intention that the federal government will pay for the entire cost of reconstructing that bridge. And I expect the Congress to support my effort,” the president said.

“15,000 jobs depend on that port, and we’re gonna do everything we can to protect those jobs and help those workers,” Biden said.

“It’s one of the most important elements for the economy in the Northeast and the quality of life.”

CNN’s Ella Nilsen, Allison Gordon, Flora Charner, Amy Simonson, Jennifer Henderson, Sahar Akbarzai, Andy Rose, Derek van Dam, Monica Garrett, AnneClaire Stapleton, Louis Mian, Casey Riddle, Kit Maher, Sean Lyngaas, Mary Kay Mallonee, Melissa Alonso and Maria Santana contributed to this report.

™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

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