Biden vows to ‘move heaven and earth’ to rebuild Key Bridge and reopen Baltimore port after collapse

President says the federal government is ‘not leaving until this job gets done’

Andrew Feinberg
Washington, DC
Tuesday 26 March 2024 17:29 GMT
Federal government will pay to rebuild Baltimore's Key Bridge 'in full', Biden says

President Joe Biden on Tuesday vowed to use federal government resources to quickly rebuild Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge and reopen the Port of Baltimore after a container ship struck a bridge pier and collapsed the structure, blocking off a vital shipping channel and clogging traffic on a major interstate highway.

Speaking from the Roosevelt Room just before departing the White House for a campaign swing through North Carolina, Mr Biden praised emergency responders and said he has been in close contact with Maryland Governor Wes Moore, the state’s two senators, Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, as well as Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski, Mayor Brandon Scott and Representative Kewsi Fume, the House member whose district encompasses the collapsed bridge.

The president said he and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg are sending the Maryland officials “all the federal resources they need as we respond to this emergency” and promised that they would “rebuild that port together”.

“We're incredibly grateful for the brave rescuers who immediately rushed to the sea and to the people of Baltimore,” he said. “We’re with you, we're going to stay with you as long as it takes.”

The president’s comments came just under 12 hours after the Singaporean-flagged cargo carrier Dali lost power and issued a distress call stating that the massive vessel had lost the ability to manoeuvre after departing the Port of Baltimore at approximately 1am ET.

The container ship slammed into one of the bridge’s support piers, causing a progressive collapse as the 50-year-old structure tumbled into the Patapsco River.

Mr Biden said the evidence available to federal authorities has given them no reason to consider the collision and resulting collapse anything except “a terrible accident” and praised the ship’s crew for promptly alerting Maryland Department of Transportation personnel when they lost control of the massive container carrier.

Citing officials at the scene, the president said approximately eight people remain unaccounted for at this time, though he conceded that the number of missing may change.

But Mr Biden also pointed out that the Port of Baltimore will have to remain closed during search and rescue efforts, and said the shipping channel would need to be cleared of wreckage before any traffic could pass through what he called “one of the nation’s largest shipping hubs” — a port that handles approximately 850,000 vehicle imports each year and supports 15,000 jobs.

“It handled a record of cargo last year. It's also the top port in America both imports and exports of automobiles and light trucks ... we're gonna do everything we can to protect those jobs and help those workers,” he said, adding that the now-collapsed bridge was “critical for travel” for the entire Northeast Corridor region, carrying approximately 30,000 vehicles per day.

“I'm directing my team to move heaven and earth to reopen the port and rebuild the bridge as soon as humanly possible,” he said.

Mr Biden also said he and Maryland authorities would “work with our partners in Congress” to ensure that the Old Line State gets “the support it needs” but he vowed that the federal government would “pay for the entire cost of reconstructing that bridge”.

Though the president conceded that reconstruction would “take some time,” he said he expects Congress to support rebuilding efforts and promised that the people of Baltimore could “count on us so to stick with them at every step of the way, till the port is reopened and the bridge is rebuilt”.

“We're not leaving until this job gets done,” he said.

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