What to know about Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse in Baltimore

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 4 p.m. March 26 to reflect new information.

 The Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore collapsed early Tuesday morning after a container ship collided with it, sending people into the water and creating a tense scene as search-and-rescue crews attempted to locate them.

 The bridge plays an important role in commercial shipping access to the Port of Baltimore, a hub for vehicles, light trucks and various bulk goods. The collapse occurred before the morning commute, sparing countless lives.

 Images show a mangled mass of steel collapsed on the cargo ship and pieces of the snapped-off bridge protruding from the chilly 50-foot deep waters.

 Here’s what to know about the collapse.

 What happened?

Around 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, the Dali, a Singapore-flagged ship, smashed into a bridge pillar as it was leaving the port. It’s unclear why the ship, which was carrying around 4,900 containers, collided with the bridge. The ship was under pilotage when the incident occurred.

A video shared on social media appears to show the ship losing and regaining power at least twice. Smoke appears to plume out of the ship as it inches toward the 1.6-mile bridge, which vehicles were using, seemingly oblivious to what was occurring below them on the water.

 The Dali crashed into the bridge, and within seconds, it collapsed with alarming speed.

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

 Were there any deaths?

Search-and-rescue operations were underway Tuesday afternoon. No injuries or deaths were reported by authorities, early on. National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy refused to address deaths or injuries during a news conference Tuesday afternoon, saying local authorities would share that information.

 Officials said construction workers were repairing potholes on the bridge when it collapsed. Maryland Transportation Secretary Paul Wiedefeld said authorities searched for eight people, believed to be involved with the construction work. Two people were rescued while six remain missing, authorities said. One person was hospitalized in critical condition Tuesday, President Joe Biden said. Search and rescue was called off Tuesday night and the six remaining missing are presumed dead.

 The owners and managers of the Dali said Tuesday in a statement that all of the ship’s 22-person crew and the two pilots have been accounted for with no injuries.

 Baltimore Fire Department Chief James Wallace said at a news conference that authorities detected vehicles in the water by using sonar. Wiedefeld said authorities don’t believe anyone is trapped in vehicles in the water.

 “All of our hearts are broken. We feel your loss. We’re thinking about you, and we will always be thinking of you. We pray for the construction workers who were on the Key Bridge and we pray for everyone who has been touched by this tragedy, and their families and all of their loved ones,” Moore said to victims and their families.

 Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott called the collapse “an unspeakable tragedy.”

 “This is a tragedy you can never imagine,” Scott said. “Never would you think you could see, physically see, the Key Bridge tumble down. It was like something out of an action movie.”

U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Erin Palmer said the agency had deployed multiple small boats, an 87-foot patrol boat and a helicopter to aid in search-and-rescue efforts.

 How did the collision occur?

It’s unclear what led to the collision, but the Dali was traveling at 8 knots, about 9 mph, when it struck the bridge, Moore said.

 Homendy shared limited information Tuesday afternoon about the collapse. She said she had a team of 24 people on the ground investigating the collapse, including nautical operations experts, bridge experts and structural engineers.

NTSB officials didn’t board the vessel Tuesday, but Homendy said her team hopes to recover records on the ship, which will be critical to the investigation and understanding what occurred.

 According to the website Marine Traffic, which provides real-time information on ships, the Dali had departed the Port of Baltimore at 1 a.m. and was just 30 minutes into its route to Colombo, Sri Lanka, when it hit the bridge. It was due to arrive in Colombo on April 22.

The Dali is nearly 984 feet long and about 157 feet wide, the website said. Two pilots were on board the ship, which is owned by Grace Ocean Private Ltd, Synergy Marine Group said.

The ship’s crew notified authorities of a power issue and a mayday was issued before the collision, the governor said. The distress signal enabled authorities to begin halting traffic, keeping “many vehicles” off the bridge when it collapsed, the governor said.

The bridge was fully up to code didn’t appear to have structural issues, officials said. Engineers are on-site.

How does this affect commuters and cargo?

The bridge, built in 1977, crosses the Patapsco River and was part of Interstate 695, serving as the final link of the Baltimore Beltway. Some 35,000 people use the bridge daily as a major commute route, Wiedefeld said. They will have to seek alternative routes for the foreseeable future.

“This is a place that is a normal commute route for over 30,000 Marylanders every single day,” Moore said, adding that he’s used the bridge countless times. “And so to hear the words that the Key Bridge has collapsed, it’s shocking and heartbreaking.”

Shipping in and out of the Port of Baltimore is suspended until further notice, officials said. In January, more than 940,000 general cargo tons went through the port.

The port was listed as the 20th-biggest port in the country by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Moore in February touted the port’s success as “one of the largest economic generators in Maryland” after its private terminals handled a record 52.3 million tons of foreign cargo in 2023.

The Port of Baltimore generates some 15,300 jobs and nearly 140,000 jobs are linked to port activities, the governor previously announced. It is the top U.S. port for volume of autos and light trucks, roll-on/roll-off heavy farm and construction machinery, imported sugar, and imported gypsum. The bridge collapse and suspension of shipping will undoubtedly be a blow to the state’s economy.

“It’s critically important to our economy,” U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland said at a news conference. “It affects many, many jobs. It affects not only jobs in Maryland but around the country and world. Our next priority is to make sure we get that channel open.”

According to Marine Traffic, 50 vessels were in port and 39 were expected to arrive Tuesday. The website reported that 68 vessels had departed and 55 had arrived in the past 24 hours. Port of Baltimore officials said although vessel traffic is suspended, trucks are still being processed inside terminals.

Cruises also depart from the Port of Baltimore.

It’s unclear when shipping could resume because “our exclusive effort is on saving lives,” Moore said. The Port of Baltimore serves as “a key component in Maryland’s transportation network,” Wiedefeld previously said.

 Biden vowed a rapid rebuilding effort.

“As I told Gov. Moore, I directed my team to move heaven and earth to reopen the port and rebuild the bridge as soon as humanly possible,” he said. “It’s my intention that the federal government will pay for the entire cost of reconstructing that bridge.”

 U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg called the Francis Scott Key Bridge “one of the cathedrals of American infrastructure.”

“It has been part of the skyline of this region for longer than many of us have been alive, so the path to normalcy will not be easy, it will not be quick, it will not be inexpensive, but we will rebuild together,” he said.

The closure of the port will damage the supply chain, according to Buttigieg: “There is no question that this will have a major and protracted impact to supply chains,” he said.

 How are officials and authorities responding?

Federal, state and local agencies are working together to investigate and respond to the collapse. Moore said agencies began coordinating “immediately” in the wee hours of the morning after the collapse.

“We’ve been staying together every step of the way, from our county leadership, to our city leadership, to our state leadership, to our federal leadership,” he said.

Homendy said her counterpart in Singapore was sending personnel to Baltimore on Wednesday. 

Nonprofit Behavioral Health System Baltimore is offering free counseling available by phone call and text message at 988 around the clock. Mental health services are also on-site at the bridge Tuesday offering services for community members and first responders, Scott said.

In his remarks Tuesday about the tragedy, Biden said he had used the bridge “many, many times” commuting to Delaware. He said he had spoken to officials and U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was on the scene in Baltimore.

“I told them we were going to send all of the federal resources they need as we respond to this emergency. I mean all the federal resources,” Biden said. “We’re going to rebuild that port together.”

The Army Corps of Engineers is leading the effort to clear the channel, he said. 

The FBI is investigating the collapse and has supplied linguists, victim specialists and divers to assist in the operation. 

The FAA announced flight restrictions for drones. Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott declared a state of emergency. Moore also declared a state of emergency.

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