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Search and rescue teams scour water after Baltimore bridge collapse

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, HOST:

At least two people have been rescued - one is in very serious condition - after a Baltimore bridge collapsed early this morning, spilling multiple cars into the water below. A large cargo ship ran into the support beams of the Francis Scott Key Bridge at about 1:30 this morning, causing it to crumble and fall apart. Officials are still working to confirm the exact number of people who were in the vehicles that fell to the water, as search and rescue operations continue. Maryland Governor Wes Moore spoke at a press conference just a few moments ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WES MOORE: To our first responders, I'm in awe of you. You saw a crisis, and you said, what can I do to help?

ELLIOTT: Daylight has made clearer the scope of the damage and why officials are calling this a mass casualty event. Matt Bush of member station WYPR in Baltimore has been on the scene all night reporting and joins us live now. Hi, Matt. Update us on what the situation is at this moment.

MATT BUSH, BYLINE: So the search and rescue efforts are still going on here, the governor still wrapping up his press conference here, chatting with some reporters, taking some questions and all that. But what we've heard right now - as you said, two rescue - two workers were or two people were rescued from the water, but there could be as many as seven more. There was a construction crew working on the bridge at the time it collapsed. They were patching potholes. And I think a lot of the concern about the missing people right now, the people they're still looking for, regard those construction workers.

ELLIOTT: So the video that we've been seeing this morning of that containership hitting the bridge is pretty horrifying. What are you being told about what could possibly be the cause of the accident?

BUSH: Well, the FBI is here, and the FBI just spoke at this press conference, but so far, there is no indication, none, that this is terrorism or that this was intentional. They believe it was an accident and more will have to come out about that. And I think if people who, you know, saw that video and all that, it appears - cannot be confirmed, but it appears that the ship lost power multiple times as it approached the bridge support that ended up striking. The National Transportation Safety Board will be the organization doing the investigation into the crash and why it happened.

ELLIOTT: So the Francis Scott Key Bridge sees huge amounts of traffic, both over and under it, on the water.

BUSH: Yes.

ELLIOTT: What is the impact of the loss of this going to be?

BUSH: I think we're just wrapping our heads around it right now. It was about 31,000 vehicles went over the bridge every day, much less the ships that went under it from the Port of Baltimore, which is one of, if not, the busiest ports in the United States. So I don't think we have any idea right now how much this is - how long this is going to take, the impact of this. The governor just said there's no timetable right now on when things could be rebuilt or when things may reopen. So, very long term - this is one of the three interstate crossings of the Patapsco River in Baltimore, and it's the only one that was above ground. The other two are tunnels. And, you know, there's a lot of trucks, such as hazmat trucks that can't go through tunnels. So they're going to have to go somewhere. So the impact on traffic is going to be enormous, both on the ground and in the water.

ELLIOTT: And I understand it's also curtailed traffic on the water from the Port of Baltimore right now. Is that correct?

BUSH: Right. That's what we've heard, that the port has been closed. And again, the impact that's going to have could be absolutely enormous, depending on how quickly they're able to reopen shipping in and out of the port.

ELLIOTT: It could impact the whole region's economy.

BUSH: More than just the region - I think we've seen with supply chain issues, with shipping and all that, it could impact more than just the Mid-Atlantic region.

ELLIOTT: Matt Bush of member station WYPR in Baltimore. Thank you for your reporting.

BUSH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.
Matt Bush