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What is happening with the Key bridge collapse?


In Baltimore, search and rescue efforts have been suspended tonight after the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed very early this morning. Officials say there were eight people working on the bridge when it fell. Two of them were rescued. The Coast Guard says the other six are now presumed dead. NPR's Andrew Limbong is in Baltimore, has been following all the developments. He joins us now live. Hi Andrew.


KELLY: Hey. So where are we in this? When you and I spoke just a couple of hours ago, this was still a search and rescue operation.

LIMBONG: Yeah. Well, it seems as if the search and rescue has been suspended for now, and the six that they were looking for were presumed dead - are presumed dead. It's been a long day. You know, I just want to, like, remind listeners that the bridge collapsed at about, like, 1:30-ish this morning - early this morning - Eastern time. And, you know, even well into the afternoon, I was at a press conference where Maryland Governor Wes Moore was saying search and rescue had been top priority for everyone involved. They made sure to emphasize that before all of the other issues that had been piling on. But now, it looks like we have called that off. At that press conference, though, Governor Moore did say he spoke with the families of the victims involved, and he commended their bravery.

KELLY: Yeah. And what do we know about them? This was a construction crew that was working in the wee hours on the bridge?

LIMBONG: Yeah. So apparently they were there fixing potholes. You know, it had nothing to do, really, with, like, the bridge that had just - with the ship that had just hit the bridge. Our colleagues at WYPR actually spoke with a man named Jesus Campos, who says these - the crew were his coworkers. And, you know, he had a lot of respect for the dangerous work that they all do, and here's what he had to say.


WES MOORE: There's going to be a long road. There's going to be a long road not just as we go from search and rescue. There'll be a long road as we talk about - what does the future of this region and the future of the area look like?

KELLY: Uh-oh, and I think that might have been, actually, Governor Moore that we just heard there. Just paraphrase for me what Jesus Campos had to say, Andrew.

LIMBONG: Jesus Campos just noted that you need bravery to do the work there becuase, even on a normal day, under normal circumstances, when you're on the side of the road, if cars are passing by you on a bridge, you can sort of feel the whole thing shake. And, you know, that's a very normal thing for bridges. And this bridge was, you know, kind of normal. Officials this morning said that it had just passed all inspections, and there was no evidence that notes that the bridge was in poor condition. And also, I just wanted to go back - and Campos wanted to make sure to note that all the crew were, like, Mexican, Guatemalan, Salvadoran or Honduran.

KELLY: OK, so coming from Latin America. Hey, talk to me just about the bridge. This - for people who don't know Baltimore - and I should know it better than I do, having lived not that far away for years - but this was a major artery in the region for traffic. I mean, how are officials thinking about how people are going to get around - how life in this part of the country is going to work in the the coming days and weeks?

LIMBONG: Yeah, so it was part of the main sort of beltway - right? - the main highway that surrounds the city. Like we heard Governor Wes Moore in that clip, he said that this is going to be a long road for the future of what this part of the city looks like because traffic is just going to change entirely, right? I mean, just to - like, within Baltimore, like, particularly trucking traffic is going to have to get rerouted to different sections.

And, you know, as far the rest of the country goes, this is above - the bridge stood above a major port, right? Secretary Pete Buttigieg was at that press conference this morning, and he noted that it is one of the most extremely active ports in the country - that it is feeding everything - feeding all of these shipping containers. So this is also going to have a massive impact on supply-chain issues. And also, Secretary Buttigieg noted that there might be some hazmat issues, too. And I just want to point out, like, the sort of, like, you know, A, B, C - go down the column - like, the issues that might arise. Take that hazmat thing, right? Usually, if you can't take the Key Bridge, you have - there are two other routes to take. You got the two tunnels, right? - the Fort McHenry tunnel and the Harbor Tunnel. Now, those tunnels have restrictions on the kind of dangerous materials that you can bring through them. And so without the Key Bridge, you know, we're going to have to figure out how to, you know, import all that stuff around.

KELLY: And, Andrew, just touch on what we know about the investigation. Like, what caused this bridge to collapse?

LIMBONG: So the National Transportation Safety Board said they were still investigating what happened. This ship that crashed into the bridge was from Singapore, called the Dali. And from what officials have pieced together, it lost power before it rammed into the bridge, which caused the collapse. Now, before the ship lost power, they managed to alert authorities. You know, they sent out a mayday signal, saying that they were losing power, and this allowed authorities on the bridge to sort of stop traffic, which means, you know, who knows how many lives we saved...

KELLY: Sure.

LIMBONG: ...By not having more cars there on the bridge. But just to go back to the Singaporean bit, the NTSB says they've been in touch with Singaporean officials and that folks from Singapore are headed over here to help figure out exactly what happened.

KELLY: OK, OK. NPR's Andrew Limbong - thank you.

LIMBONG: Thanks, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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