Baltimore Key bridge collapse: Large cranes arrive to begin clearing wreckage

The largest crane on the Eastern Seaboard arrived at the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse site early Friday. The crane, the largest available, was dwarfed in size by the cargo ship, the Dali. 

Maryland lawmakers say part of the complication in this next salvage operation, involves a 1,000-ton crane having to remove some 3,000-4,000 tons of steel bridge just sitting on the ship alone. 

The U.S. Coast Guard says the priority is clearing the channel. A second 400-ton crane is expected to arrive on Saturday as the Maryland governor continues to warn there’s a very long road ahead.

"If the Eiffel Tower was laid down, this vessel is almost the size of the Eiffel Tower, and the only difference is that it now has the key bridge laying on top of it. This is remarkably complicated. While this is also having a salvage operation with many, many moving variables. The reality at this point is there are far many unknowns than known," said Maryland Governor Wes Moore. 

The Francis Scott Key Bridge, carrying the "Baltimore Beltway," collapsed early Tuesday, March 26th, when the cargo ship named the "Dali" crashed into one of its supports. 

The disaster left six construction workers dead and resulted in the closure of one of the nation’s busiest ports, already causing major economic disruptions to the region and across the country.

READ MORE: Biden Administration approves Maryland's $60M request for Baltimore Key Bridge response

By sunrise Friday, the crane could be seen on site as officials continue to scramble to find the most efficient ways to clean up the wreckage and rebuild. It arrived by barge and can lift up to 1,000 tons, according to Maryland Gov. Wes Moore. Aerial images from SKYFOX show the substantial size difference between the crane and the Dali. The huge vessel is almost as long as the Eiffel Tower is tall. It was carrying nearly 4,700 shipping containers at the time of the crash.

Moore said "the best minds in the world" are working on cleanup efforts, including members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Navy contractors who are mobilizing resources from across the U.S.

"This is not just about Maryland," Moore said. "This is about the nation’s economy. The port handles more cars and more farm equipment than any other port in America." According to FOX Business, the port handled a record amount of cargo last year, making it the 20th biggest port in the nation ranked by total tons. It’s a major route for shipping containers and cruise liners and is the deepest harbor in Maryland's Chesapeake Bay.

READ MORE: Baltimore bridge collapse: Brawner Builders says company 'in mourning' over loss of work crew

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Baltimore Key bridge collapse: Large cranes arrive to begin clearing wreckage

The port is the busiest in the U.S. for car shipments, handling more than 750,000 vehicles in 2023, according to data from the Maryland Port Administration.

Interstate 695 is also a critical link for trucking and motor vehicles connecting Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York to the nation’s capital. 

The bridge carried nearly 30,000 vehicles a day.

READ MORE: NTSB investigating hazmat spill in Baltimore Key Bridge collapse; Probe could last 2 years

Clearing the channel will also allow authorities to resume their search for the missing bodies of those killed.  Six members of a construction crew that were working to fill potholes on the highway span died when the roadway plunged into the water below.

Only two of the bodies have been recovered so far. Officials halted the search for the four workers still missing -- authorities believing their locations are presumed encased in concrete, rebar, and other heavy/unstable bridge debris.

Even with resources from across the country all working at record speed, the Associated Press says experts say it could still take anywhere from 18 months to several years to rebuild the bridge at a cost of at least $400 million.

In the meantime, Maryland’s Department of Labor set up a hotline to help those affected by the collapse with their unemployment insurance claims. Governor Moore told reporters that number is: 667 930 5989.