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Baltimore Bridge Collapse: 6 Presumed Dead, Major Shipping Hub Shut Down

A container ship departing the Port of Baltimore struck Baltimore's Key Bridge and caused it to collapse early Tuesday morning, blocking the port's entrance and exit and creating an obstacle for auto traffic.

Baltimore's Key Bridge collapsed after a cargo ship slammed into it Tuesday morning.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott declared a state of emergency due to the bridge collapse, which happened at about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday. State leaders said at a press conference Tuesday that two people were rescued following the collapse and at least six were still missing. 

Tuesday evening, officials said the six unaccounted for were presumed dead, and they stopped rescue operations around 7:30 p.m.  

The six were construction workers for Brawner Builders who had been working on the bridge. The company’s executive vice president, Jeffrey Pritzker, told the Baltimore Banner Tuesday evening he also presumed them dead.

“The company is in mourning and it’s a terrible, unanticipated tragedy,” he said. 

A mayday call from the crew of the ship led officials to stop car traffic on both ends of the bridge before it collapsed Tuesday, state and federal officials said, and the move likely saved lives.  

The search for those unaccounted for was ongoing as of 5 p.m. ET Tuesday, with fire officials telling The New York Times that efforts have been hampered by remnants of the bridge that fell into the river. They said rescuers would continue working until dark, then resume Wednesday at dawn.  

"Our teams are mobilizing resources and working swiftly to address this crisis and ensure the safety and well-being of our community," Scott posted on X, formerly Twitter, Tuesday morning.

President Joe Biden, speaking early Tuesday afternoon, said he will push for the federal government to fund the entire cost of reconstructing the bridge. He said the bridge is “critical” for the region’s economy, and 15,000 jobs depend on the port.

"I’ve directed my team to move heaven and earth to reopen the port and rebuild the bridge as soon as humanly possible," Biden said. "We’re going to work hand in hand to support Maryland."

Sen. Chris Van Hollen said Tuesday Maryland's congressional delegation has begun discussing how to direct emergency federal relief funding for recovery and reconstruction of the bridge. He said the level of funding needed would require legislation but didn’t know the price tag yet. 

Completed in 1977, the 1.6-mile bridge connected the outer loop of Interstate 695, also known as the Baltimore Beltway, across the Patapsco River, which leads to Baltimore's terminals and Inner Harbor

The collapse has shut down a major commuting thoroughfare for the region. The bridge carried more than 33,000 cars daily as of 2022, according to state data

Additionally, the Maryland Port Administration announced Tuesday that all vessel traffic in and out of the port has been suspended until further notice. However, the port itself remained open, and terminals continued to process trucks.  

The Port of Baltimore ranks among the nation's busiest ports, particularly regarding so-called roll-on and roll-off cargo. Baltimore's port is one of four in the nation with a channel deep enough to handle some of the largest container ships, called Panamax ships, that pass through the Panama Canal.  

According to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the port ranks No. 18 among the nation's top 25 for cargo tonnage and is one of five ports in the nation that ranked in the top 25 in all three cargo categories: container, tonnage and dry dock. Baltimore's port also ranked second in North America and first in the U.S. for the number of cars and light trucks that pass through it annually.

As a result of the port, ongoing rail infrastructure upgrades and the availability of industrial-zoned property in East Baltimore and eastern Baltimore County, the area has emerged as one of the most sought-after locations for industrial properties in the region. 

The Tradepoint Atlantic development represents the most significant development in that area. Over the last decade, that project has transformed an all but abandoned steel manufacturing site near the foot of the Key Bridge into a global distribution hub with nearly immediate access to interstate highways, rail and shipping.  

"As part of the Port of Baltimore, we are committed to helping our state and local partners and the entire port community recover and rebuild from this tragedy," the Tradepoint Atlantic team said in a statement released Tuesday. 

The collapsed bridge was named after Francis Scott Key, who penned a poem while watching the British attack on Baltimore's Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. Those words, set to the tune of an old drinking song, eventually became the national anthem.  

UPDATE, MARCH 26, 7:50 P.M. ET: This story has been updated with additional comments and details about the bridge collapse.