Biden approves $60m in aid after deadly Baltimore bridge collapse

<span>NTSB investigators inspect damage from the cargo vessel Dali, which struck and collapsed the Francis Scott Key Bridge on Wednesday in Baltimore, Maryland.</span><span>Photograph: NTSB/Getty Images</span>
NTSB investigators inspect damage from the cargo vessel Dali, which struck and collapsed the Francis Scott Key Bridge on Wednesday in Baltimore, Maryland.Photograph: NTSB/Getty Images

The Maryland governor Wes Moore has warned of a “very long road ahead” to recover from the loss of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge as the Biden administration approved $60m in immediate federal aid after the deadly collapse.

The funding does not cover the reconstruction of the crippled bridge itself, but to instead remove shattered parts of the structure and deal with traffic in order to reopen Baltimore’s shipping channels.

Massive barges carrying cranes streamed toward Baltimore on Thursday to begin the challenging work of removing twisted metal and concrete from the Patapsco River after a powerless container ship measuring 948ft (290m) crashed into one of the bridge’s supports, causing it to topple early on Tuesday.

Related: Baltimore bridge collapse could lead to record insurance loss, says Lloyd’s boss

In a letter to the Federal Highway Administration, the Maryland department of transportation said that its current estimate for the mobilization, operations and debris removal of the bridge was $60m. The letter says the state’s funding for emergencies is “limited and unable to fund an emergency of this magnitude”.

The cost estimate for the disaster is likely to climb as the cleanup from the collapse of the 1.6 mile-long bridge continues.

Joe Biden pledged federal dollars for the “entire cost” of the disaster.

“President Biden and all our federal partners have given Maryland tremendous support as we face an overwhelming tragedy impacting our state, our region and the people of Baltimore,” said Wes Moore, Maryland’s governor, in a statement.

“This initial emergency relief request is needed for our immediate response efforts, and to lay the foundation for a rapid recovery.”

Moore promised that “the best minds in the world” were working on plans to clear the debris. “Government is working hand in hand with industry to investigate the area, including the wreck, and remove the ship,” said Moore.

“This work is not going to take hours. This work is not going to take days. This work is not going to take weeks,” Moore said. “We have a very long road ahead of us.”

US Coast Guard officials said on Wednesday night that barges were on their way to the spot where the bridge crossed the Patapsco River, but it was not clear when they would arrive.

The devastation at the site of the collapse, which happened when the cargo ship struck a pillar supporting the bridge after losing power early on Tuesday, is extensive. Divers reached the bodies of two men in a pickup truck near the bridge’s middle span on Wednesday, but officials said they would need to start clearing away the twisted wreckage before anyone could reach the bodies of four other missing workers.

The victims were part of a pothole-repair crew that was working on the bridge at the time of the disaster.

National Transportation Safety Board officials boarded the cargo ship, the Dali, to recover information from its electronics and paperwork and to interview the captain and other crew members.

Booms have been placed in the area to control the spread of any oil that seeped into the water, and state environmental officials were also sampling the water on Thursday.

The sudden loss of a highway that carries 30,000 vehicles a day and the port disruption will affect not only thousands of dockworkers and commuters but also US consumers, who are likely to feel the impact of shipping delays.

Associated Press contributed to this story