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Biden to Baltimore: 'Your nation has your back'

April 6, 2024

US President Joe Biden flew to Baltimore on Friday to get a firsthand view of the destroyed Francis Scott Key Bridge. The structure collapsed after being struck by a cargo ship on March 26.

US President Joe Biden, surrounded by local, state and federal officials, delivers remarks in front of the wreckage of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland on April 5, 2024
President Biden said "our hearts are still breaking" but promised to "move heaven and earth" to rebuild Baltimore's bridge as soon as possible Image: Josh Morgan/Imago

US President Joe Biden on Friday flew to Baltimore, Maryland, aboard Marine One to inspect the wreckage of the Francis Scott Key Bridge that previously spanned the city's industrial port before it was struck by a container ship and collapsed in the early hours of March 26.

The US presidential helicopter Marine One flies above the wreckage of the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland; part of the industrial port can be seen in the image, as well as the container ship that caused the collapse
Biden inspected the wreckage from the presidential helicopter Marine One before meeting state and local officialsImage: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP/picture alliance

Biden then met with members of the US Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers involved in the effort to remove the wreckage of last week's spectacular collapse in order to allow access in and out of the Port of Baltimore and reopen one of the country's major shipping lanes.

Currently, more than 50 salvage divers are working to cut sections of the structure apart and 12 cranes are on site to remove them from the channel. 

The president also met with police officers who responded to a distress signal from the ship and rushed to the scene to block traffic, averting more deaths than those of six construction workers killed in the accident. Biden also met with the families of the workers who died.

Authorities said on Friday that rescue dive teams had recovered a third body from the water, that of a 38-year-old from Honduras.

Rescue divers recovered two other bodies from under the debris last week. Three bodies are still yet to be found.

'Our hearts are still breaking' 

"I'm here to say your nation has your back and I mean it. Your nation has your back," said Biden as he spoke near the site of the wreckage, "The damage is devastating and our hearts are still breaking."

"From the air I saw the bridge that has been ripped apart," he said, "but here on the ground I see a community that's pulled together."

President Joe Biden (center) shakes hands with police officers in Baltimore
The president met with police and first responders before a briefing by members of the Coast Guard and the Army Corps of EngineersImage: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP/picture alliance

In his remarks, Biden also said, "My administration is committed to ensuring that the parties responsible for the Baltimore bridge collapse pay to repair the damage." 

Flanked by state and city officials, Biden promised, "We're gonna move heaven and earth to rebuild this bridge as rapidly as humanly possible. And we're going to do so with union labor and American steel."

Officials say they hope to restore normal ship movement by May 31, according to the White House. 

How important is Baltimore's port and how long will recovery take? 

More than $200 million (€184 million) worth of cargo usually moves through the port — a major hub for the import and export of vehicles — each day, making its swift reopening of key importance to the US economy.

Some experts have estimated that reconstruction could take at least 18 months and cost upwards of $400 million.

Biden has promised that the federal government will cover the cost of recovery and Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said likewise.

However, such funding is not guaranteed, with Republicans in the House of Representatives suggesting they will demand spending cuts elsewhere and the suspension of environmental and endangered species laws before agreeing to foot the bill. Republicans hold a slight majority in the House. 

A statement issued by the Republican House Freedom Caucus on Friday said, "If it proves necessary to appropriate taxpayer money to get one of America's busiest ports back online, Congress should ensure it is fully offset and that burdensome regulations" are waved.

After US bridge collapse, crane begins clearing wreckage

js/wd (APE, Reuters)