The bodies of two construction workers who died in the Baltimore bridge collapse were recovered Wednesday afternoon still in their vehicle, as recovery efforts continued for four more missing victims, Maryland state officials said. In Washington, D.C., U.S. Transportation Secretary Peter Buttigieg said reopening the port’s shipping channel is the next priority.

Clearing the channel and dealing with supply chain issues are immediate tasks, Buttigieg said in a White House press briefing Wednesday. The collapse of the Francis Scott Key bridge – still draped across the bow of the 984’x157’ container ship Dali since the allision Tuesday morning – has bottled up the port to prevent any movement of ships and cargo.

Baltimore is a foremost U.S. port for handling cars and light trucks, construction and farm equipment, along with coal and other commodities.

The port handles $100 million to $200 million in cargo daily, with some $2 million in wages going to workers, said Buttigieg.

Maryland state lawmakers Sen. Bill Ferguson and Del. Luke Clippinger said Wednesday morning they were drafting emergency state legislation to provide “income replacement” for workers affected by the port closure. State officials say some 15,000 jobs are tied to the port.

The Dali was outbound enroute to Sri Lanka when it suffered a power failure and ran into one of the main bridge piers at 1:28 a.m. Tuesday. A mayday warning from a local pilot on the bridge enabled Maryland Transportation Authority police to start stopping traffic heading for the span.

The warning afforded around 90 seconds to stem the flow of traffic, according to Maryland officials. If not for the warning and light overnight traffic, the death toll “could have been in the dozens,” said Buttigieg.

But eight construction workers who were repairing potholes and masonry on the span fell into the Patapsco River. Two were rescued by first responders, and two bodies were recovered, still in a red pickup truck in 25 feet of water. All were identified as migrant laborers from Mexico and Central America.

National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy said investigators recovered the Dali’s data recorder and the information was under analysis at an NTSB lab. Investigators would start interviewing the ship’s crew members Wednesday, Homendy told CNN.

Late Wednesday afternoon the Coast Guard announced it has established a joint command along with the Maryland state Department of the Environment, Maryland Transportation Authority, Maryland State Police and ship operator Synergy Marine. A new website was set up to deliver updates on the response.

Officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Baltimore District said they activated its Emergency Operations Center Tuesday, clearing the way for more than 1,100 engineering, construction, contracting and operations specialists to provide support to local, state and federal agencies.

By the next day, the Corps was providing:

  • Certified underwater assessment capabilities by structural professional engineers, a remotely operated vehicle and sonar;
  • Structural engineering support, including certified bridge safety inspectors and urban search and rescue structural technical specialists;
  • Waterway debris management, led by USACE debris removal vessel Reynolds, which regularly patrols the waters of the Baltimore Harbor and Patapsco River for drift and debris that could be hazardous to navigation. The Catlett, a 61-foot survey vessel for Baltimore District’s Navigation Branch, conducted hydrographic and topographic surveying.

The Corps was preparing additional vessels for support including the Philadelphia District’s H.R. Spies and the Dauntless, and dive safety experts from the Philadelphia, Buffalo, and New England Districts.

Stuck inside the harbor, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, there were three bulk carriers, one ro/ro vehicles carrier, two general cargo ships, a oil/chemical tanker, four Maritime Administration (MARAD) Ready Reserve Force vessels, plus the container ship behind the fallen bridge.

One vehicle carrier was in the port, but outside the bridge. Beyond the bridge, there were nine bulk carriers, one vehicles carrier, and two general cargo vessels at anchorage as of 4 p.m. March 27.

Meanwhile “at least two cruise ships, one of which has a capacity of more than 2,000 passengers and more than 700 crew are scheduled to return to Baltimore,” the agency noted. “Many people will need to be reunited with their motor vehicles parked at the terminal in the harbor.”


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