6 workers presumed dead after cargo ship crash levels Baltimore bridge, company says

by 24USATVMarch 26, 2024, 11 p.m. 20
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The Dali was chartered by Danish shipping giant Maersk, which said it will have no choice but to send its ships to other nearby ports with the Port of Baltimore closed.

Writer David Simon, a champion of Baltimore who set his TV crime drama "The Wire" on the streets of the city he once covered as a reporter, warned online that the people who will suffer the most are those whose livelihoods depend on the port.

"Thinking first of the people on the bridge," Simon posted on X. "But the mind wanders to a port city strangling. All the people who rely on ships in and out."

Dramatic video captured the moment at 1:28 a.m. Tuesday when the Dali struck a support and sent the bridge tumbling into the water. A livestream showed cars and trucks on the bridge just before the collision. The ship did not sink and its lights remained on.

Investigators, in a timeline, said the Dali's lights suddenly shut off four minutes earlier before coming back on and then, at 1:25 a.m. dark black smoke began billowing from the ship's chimney.

A minute later, at 1:26 a.m., the ship appeared to turn. And in the minutes before it slammed into the support, the lights flicked off and on again.

Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary Paul Wiedefeld said the workers on the bridge were repairing concrete ducts when the ship crashed into the structure.

At least seven workers were pouring concrete to fix potholes on the roadway on the bridge directly above where the ship hit, a foreman named James Krutzfeldt said.

Krutzfeldt, who was not working on that job, said one is another foreman whom he considers his mentor and “work dad.”

"I'm still kind of in shock," he said.

Earlier, the U.S. Coast Guard said it had received a report that a “motor vessel made impact with the bridge” and confirmed it was the Dali, a container ship sailing under a Singaporean flag that was heading for Sri Lanka.

Bobby Haines, who lives in Dundalk in Baltimore County, said he felt the impact of the bridge collapse from his house nearby.

"I woke up at 1:30 this morning and my house shook and I was freaking out," he said. "I thought it was an earthquake and to find out it was a bridge is really, really scary."

Earlier in the day, relatives of the construction crew waited for updates on their missing loved ones.

Marian Del Carmen Castellon told Telemundo her 49-year-old husband, Miguel Luna, was among those working on the bridge.

“They only tell us that we have to wait and that they can’t give us information,” she said.

Asked how she was holding up, Castellon said, "Devastated, devastated because our heart is broken, because we don’t know how they have been rescued yet. We are just waiting for the news."

Luna's co-worker Jesús Campos said he felt crushed, too.

“It hurts my heart to see what is happening. We are human beings and they are my folks,” he said.

Campos told The Baltimore Banner that the missing men are from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.

Some of the construction workers who still haven't been found recently had babies, Earl Schneider, a structural foreman with the company, said.

“I know everybody on that crew personally," Schneider told NBC News. "They’re all great people. It’s tough. It’s been a rough morning.”

Earlier, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott urged his constituents to pray for the workers — and the first responders struggling to locate them.

"This is an unthinkable tragedy," Scott said.

'A long road in front of us'

Built in 1977 and referred to locally as the Key Bridge, the structure was later named after the author of the American national anthem.

The bridge is more than 8,500 feet long, or 1.2 miles. Its main section spans 1,200 feet and was one of the longest continuous truss bridges in the world upon its completion, according to the National Steel Bridge Alliance.

About 31,000 vehicles a day use the bridge, which equals 11.3 million vehicles per year, according to the Maryland Transportation Authority.

The river and the Port of Baltimore are both key to the shipping industry on the East Coast, generating more than $3.3 billion a year and directly employing more than 15,000 people.

Asked what people in Baltimore can expect going forward, the state's transportation secretary said it is too early to tell.

"Obviously we reached out to a number of engineering companies, so obviously we have a long road in front of us," Wiedefeld said.

Julia Jester reported from Baltimore, Patrick Smith from London and Corky Siemaszko from New York City.

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