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One month after the Baltimore bridge collapse

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A month ago today, a ship careened into Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge. Thousands of tons of steel crashed into the water. Six workers died. Today, the port is still largely blocked. The federal investigation continues, and the accident has affected the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. WYPR's Scott Maucione is here with an update. Hi there.

SCOTT MAUCIONE, BYLINE: Hey there.

SHAPIRO: Well, one month in, what does the river look like? Is the ship still sitting there?

MAUCIONE: Well, yep. That ship is still there. I actually had an opportunity to go out with the Coast Guard and tour that wreckage. And it's really like an apocalyptic scene seeing the bridge abruptly end and the ship entangled in this massive amounts of steel. The real mess, though, is under the water. Most of the bridge is submerged, and it blocks this previously 700-foot channel and makes it extremely difficult to clean up. Unified Command is this litany of local, state and federal agencies, and they're in charge of cleaning up and have opened some small passages for ships to leave the port. But the work is very grueling and extremely dangerous. Maryland Governor Wes Moore explained some of the challenges that these cargo vessels are going through as they come and go through the port.

WES MOORE: And these boats are in such close quarters to our salvage team that they can literally feel the vibrations when these ships move by. As the water shifts, so does the wreckage because we have to understand the enormity and the size of these ships - they will and do create an impact.

SHAPIRO: Wow. So what does the timeline look like for moving the ship and fully reopening the port?

MAUCIONE: Yeah. So right now they just opened a fourth temporary channel to allow some ships to move through. At some point, they're going to have to close some of those channels and suspend the traffic in between and lift a huge part of the bridge that's still on top of the bow of the dolly and then refloat that boat and move it. That process itself is going to take about 10 days, and then they're hoping to fully reopen that port by the end of May.

SHAPIRO: And what about the port workers and people who rely on the port for income?

MAUCIONE: Yeah - extremely important. The federal and state governments have set up programs to help these workers, a handful of them, and the independent contractors. There's normal channels, like the unemployment benefits that all people are eligible for who work, but that doesn't apply to everyone. So Maryland has set up a program that pays about $460 a week to port employees who are out of the job. There's also loan and grant programs that are keeping businesses afloat so they can just pay their payroll during this time. But it's also important to remember that the port is not fully closed. While the ships can't move in and out, there are trucks that are still able to do their job. So there is some cargo that's flowing around.

SHAPIRO: Who's going to pay for all of this? I mean, how does that get sorted out?

MAUCIONE: That's the huge question that a lot of people are wondering. At this point, the federal government has said that it intends to pay for the reconstruction. And that's purely to really get this process started, but that's contingent on Congress actually funding it. And there are bills in session right now to get voted on about that. There are multiple attempts as well to get the owner of the dolly, Grace Ocean Private, to pay for this. They've applied for what's called a limited liability, and they're trying to cap that at $44 million. However, the city of Baltimore, some businesses and other entities are already challenging that, stating that the company was negligent, that it hired an inexperienced crew and that the vessel was not seaworthy. So the National Transportation Safety Board says that it expects to release its preliminary investigation next month, and that's certainly going to be helping figure out how things will go forward in a lot of these cases and who's really going to be liable.

SHAPIRO: That's Scott Maucione of member station WYPR in Baltimore, reporting on the state of play there one month after the bridge collapse. Thanks, Scott.

MAUCIONE: 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.

Scott Maucione
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