At least 6 people still unaccounted for after cargo ship crashes into Baltimore Bridge

BALTIMORE — A major Baltimore bridge collapsed like a house of cardboard after being struck by a container ship early Tuesday, plunging several vehicles into the murky waters below, prompting a frantic search for survivors and closing one of the nation's busiest ports.

Maryland Governor Wes Moore declared a state of emergency and said the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge was likely the result of an accident and not an act of terrorism.

“Our state is in shock,” the governor said.

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Notifying authorities that the freighter Daly had lost power, Moore said the 984-foot vessel issued a Mayday moments before it hit the bridge support at eight knots at nine miles per hour.

Meanwhile, rescue crews using sonar found at least five vehicles in the frigid 50-foot-deep water, including three passenger cars, a cement truck and some other type of vehicle, Moore said. Authorities do not believe anyone was inside the vehicles.

An unknown number of workers were making repairs on the bridge when the ship struck a support pier, and at least six others are still missing, Moore said.

“It's still, very much, a search and rescue mission,” he told Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said during an afternoon news conference.

An 'active search and rescue phase'

Earlier, two workers were rescued from the water, Baltimore Fire Chief James Wallace said.

Wallace said one person was in good condition and refused treatment. The other was seriously injured and was being treated at a trauma center.

After listening to Mayday, Moore said the drivers might have been in the water if it weren't for the “people” blocking the bridge and stopping other cars from crossing.

“These people are heroes,” Moore said. “They saved lives. They saved lives.

Almost eight years ago, Dali was involved in another conflict. In July 2016, the vessel collided in the port of Antwerp-Bruges, Belgium, damaging the vessel.

The Maritime Commission is investigating the accident, but details of the investigation were not immediately available Tuesday.

Dali is operated and managed by Synergy Group. In a statement, the company said two port pilots were at the helm of the Daly at the time of Tuesday's crash, accounting for all 22 crew members on board.

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About a mile and a half long, the bridge carries Interstate 695 over the Patapsco River. Baltimore Southeast is “absolutely up to code,” Moore said.

A 24-member team of National Transportation Safety Board investigators was already at the scene of the accident.

NTSB Chairman Jennifer Homandy said her agency will investigate the cause of the bridge collapse. A data recorder on board could provide more information about what happened, he said.

“But right now we're focusing on people, on families,” he said. “The rest can wait.”

President Joe Biden promised to rebuild the bridge and send federal funds.

“It's going to take some time,” Biden warned. “The people of Baltimore can be counted on to stick with them every step of the way until the harbor is reopened and the bridge is rebuilt.”

Buttigieg, speaking in Baltimore, echoed the president's promise.

“This is no ordinary bridge,” he said. “It's one of the cathedrals of American infrastructure.”

But Buttigieg warned that replacing the bridge and reopening the port would take time, cost money and affect supply chains.

The Port of Baltimore is the 11th largest in the U.S. and the busiest port for car imports and exports, handling 750,000 vehicles by 2023 alone, according to data from the Maryland Port Authority.

The chartered Danish shipping company, Marshall Daly, said it had no choice but to divert its vessels to other nearby ports once the port of Baltimore closed.

Writer David Simon, a Baltimore champion whose TV crime drama “The Wire” once captured as a reporter on the city's streets, warned online that those whose livelihoods depended on the port would suffer the most.

“Think first of the people on the bridge” Posted by Simon X. “But the mind wanders to a port city. All the people who rely on ships in and out.”

Chronology of the accident

Dramatic video captured the moment Daly struck a support and plunged the bridge into the water at 1:28 a.m. Tuesday. A livestream showed cars and trucks on the bridge just before the collision. The ship did not sink, its lights were on.

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Investigators, in a timeline, said the Daly's lights suddenly went out four minutes earlier, and then black smoke began pouring from the ship's chimney around 1:25 p.m.

A minute later, at 1:26 a.m., the ship appeared to be turning. Moments after it hit the support, the lights went out and back on.

Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary Paul Whitefield said workers on the bridge were repairing concrete pipes when the ship struck the structure.

They were employed by Brawner Builders Inc. At least seven other workers were pouring concrete to repair potholes in the road on the bridge directly above where the ship struck, said foreman James Creutzfeldt.

Creutzfeldt, who did not work on the job, said one of the missing was another foreman, whom he considered his mentor and “working dad.”

“I'm still in shock,” he said.

Earlier, the US Coast Guard said it had received a report of a “motor vessel struck on the bridge” and confirmed it was the Tally, a Singapore-flagged container ship.

Francis Scott Key Bridge early Tuesday morning.Harford County Md Fire & EMS via Getty Images

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

“I woke up at 1:30 this morning and my house was shaking and I was freaking out,” she said. “I thought it was an earthquake and to find out it was a bridge was really scary.”

Families of bridge workers await updates

A group of people claiming to be relatives of Browner construction workers at the Royal Farms convenience store near the bridge entrance. Together, they waited for word from their missing loved ones.

Marian del Carmen Castellon told Telemundo that her 49-year-old husband, Miguel Luna, was among the missing.

“They only tell us that we have to wait and that they cannot give us information,” he said.

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Asked how she was coping, Castellon said, “Devastated, devastated because our hearts are broken because we don't know how they were rescued. We are waiting for news.”

Jesús Campos, a colleague of Luna's, said he was also crushed.

“My heart aches to see what is happening. We are human beings and they are my people,” he said.

Campos said Baltimore Banner The missing are from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.

Earl Schneider, the company's structural foreman, said some of the undiscovered construction workers had babies recently.

“I know everyone on that team personally,” Schneider told NBC News. “They're all great people. It's tough. It's been a tough morning.

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

“It's an unimaginable tragedy,” Scott said.

'A Long Road Ahead of Us'

Built in 1977 and locally referred to as the Key Bridge, the structure was later named after the author of the US National Anthem.

The bridge is 8,500 feet long or 1.2 miles long. Its main section is 1,200 feet long and at its end is one of the longest continuous truss bridges in the world. National Steel Bridge Alliance.

According to the Maryland Transportation Authority, about 31,000 vehicles use the bridge per day, which is 11.3 million vehicles per year.

Both the river and the Port of Baltimore are important to the shipping industry on the East Coast, generating more than $3.3 billion annually and directly employing more than 15,000 people.

Asked what Baltimoreans can expect moving forward, the state transportation secretary said it's too early to tell.

“Obviously we approached a number of engineering firms, so obviously we have a long road ahead of us,” Wiedfeldt said.

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

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