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Crews turn sights to removing debris from ship’s deck in Baltimore bridge collapse cleanup

Gov. Wes Moore gives an update on plans to rebuild the Francis Scott Key Bridge; also acknowledges the six lives lost in the collaps

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BALTIMORE (AP) — Salvage crews at the site of the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore are turning their focus to the thousands of tons of debris sitting atop the Dali, a massive cargo ship that veered off course and caused the deadly catastrophe last month.

An estimated 3,000 to 4,000 tons of steel and concrete landed on the ship’s deck after it crashed into one of the bridge’s supporting columns and toppled the span, officials said at a news conference Friday. Crews will have to remove all that before refloating the stationary ship and guiding it back into the Port of Baltimore.

Officials displayed overhead photos of the ship with an entire section of fallen roadway crushing its bow.

So far, cranes have lifted about 120 containers from the Dali, with another 20 to go before workers can build a staging area and begin removing pieces of the mangled steel and crumbling concrete. The ship was laden with about 4,000 containers and headed for Sri Lanka when it lost power shortly after leaving Baltimore.

Its owner recently initiated a process requiring owners of the cargo on board to cover some of the salvage costs.

Six members of a roadwork crew plunged to their deaths in the collapse and two bodies remain unaccounted for.

“We cannot forget a true and hurting fact,” Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said during the news conference. “There are still two Marylanders lost and still waiting to be returned with their families for closure.”

As the salvage operations continue alongside federal and law enforcement investigations, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said getting the bridge rebuilt is an urgent priority. The 1.6 mile (2.6 kilometer) span connected working-class communities on either side of Baltimore’s harbor, allowing steelworkers and longshoremen to easily traverse the Patapsco River without driving through downtown and providing a vital route for East Coast truckers.

“This is not about nostalgia. This is about necessity,” Moore said. “You cannot have a fully functioning Port of Baltimore if the Key Bridge is not there.”

Moore said he met with leaders in Congress from both parties in Washington on Thursday to talk about funding to rebuild the bridge. He said all of them seemed to understand its importance.

“I know we are going to get this moment right, because we’re choosing to work together,” Moore said. “That was a strike to our nation’s economy.”

President Joe Biden, who visited Baltimore in the aftermath of the collapse, also called on Congress to authorize the federal government to pay for 100% of the cleanup and reconstruction. That would require bipartisan support, and some hardline congressional Republicans have already suggested controversial demands to offset the funding.

In the meantime, crews are also working to reopen the port’s main channel, which has been blocked since the collapse. Using massive floating cranes, they’ve carted away about 1,300 tons of steel and counting, without any injuries to workers in the process, officials said.

The effort remains on track to open a temporary access channel that would allow most maritime traffic through the port to resume by the end of the month, restoring commerce to one of the East Coast’s busiest maritime transit hubs.

Until that happens, unemployed port workers and others are receiving financial assistance through a network of local, state and federal programs.

“This is a community that was literally forged out of steel,” said Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski, who grew up in suburban Dundalk, practically in the bridge’s shadow. “That same steel resolve will help us meet this moment, reopen our port and rebuild the Key Bridge.”

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Associated Press reporter Brian Witte contributed to this report from Annapolis.