Joe Biden to visit Baltimore after catastrophic collapse of bridge

<span>A crane works on the debris of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland, on Friday.</span><span>Photograph: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images</span>
A crane works on the debris of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland, on Friday.Photograph: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Joe Biden said on Friday he will go to Baltimore next week following the catastrophic collapse of the road bridge across the entrance to the Maryland city’s port after it was struck by a ship.

Four people were still missing, presumed dead and in the water on Friday afternoon, as the US president pledged to follow his transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, on a visit to the site after the tragedy in the early hours of Tuesday.

A gigantic, barge-mounted crane was moved into place on Friday in the waters off the vital port as authorities prepared to begin salvaging the wreckage of the bridge that fell to pieces in seconds. Investigators were still onboard the giant container ship that rammed into the bridge piling and remains stuck under a section of the broken bridge weighing several thousand pounds.

The biggest operational crane on the US eastern seaboard now towers over the site and will probably start hauling debris out of the water on Saturday morning, according to a US Coast Guard spokesperson, Carmen Carver. A second crane is en route and expected to arrive soon to assist the effort, she said.

Federal and state authorities have outlined the enormous task of cleaning up and rebuilding the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge, which has left part of a structure strewn across the cargo ship that hit it, and in the surrounding water.

Clearing the debris currently blocking Baltimore’s harbor and main shipping channel will take several weeks, with a much longer timeframe needed to rebuild the bridge, which the federal government has pledged to do, with a call for Congress to support the necessary funding.

Shortly before 1.30am local time on Tuesday, police managed to stop traffic from going on to the bridge after a mayday was relayed from the ship that it had lost control. But there wasn’t time to alert construction workers on the bridge, who fell into the water when the bridge crumpled.

Of the eight workers, four remain unaccounted for and are presumed dead. A search-and-rescue effort was called off because of the wreckage in the area after two of the bodies were recovered. The remaining two people made it out alive after falling into the frigid water.

The crane that arrived on Friday can lift up to 1,000 tons, and will be used to clear the channel of the twisted metal and concrete remains once they have been cut into manageable pieces, according to Wes Moore, Maryland’s governor.

“We have a very long road ahead of us,” Moore said. “This is daunting. This is complicated.” Moore added that the cleanup was complicated by the fact that a portion of the bridge is sitting atop the Dali, the vessel that struck it. This, and the material that fell into the water around it, has made it difficult for rescue divers so far.

“We’re talking 3,000 to 4,000 tons of steel that’s sitting on that ship,” Moore said. “These divers have been methodical, they’ve been disciplined, they’ve been courageous, diving in darkness with objects all around them.”

A further consideration for officials is that the Dali was carrying at least 56 containers of hazardous material, some of which fell into the water following the crash. Inspectors from the National Transportation Safety Board have boarded the Singapore-flagged Dali to assess the extent of the spillage.

“It’s a massive undertaking for an investigation,” said Jennifer Homendy, chair of the board. “That’s 764 tons of hazardous materials. Mostly corrosives, flammables, and some miscellaneous hazardous materials.”

Biden has already granted $60m in federal funding to Maryland for the initial cleanup. Reopening a new bridge will probably take several years, even if the port itself can be cleared for shipping in the next few weeks.