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End of an era in Baltimore after bridge collapse leaves residents in disbelief

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On the banks of the Patapsco River, hundreds of people from Baltimore gather in the early evening sun.

Most take photos with their cell phones and can’t understand what they see. The Francis Scott Key Bridge, a staple of this city for half a century, was destroyed in less than ten seconds.

Throughout the day, they had watched television footage and seen surveillance video of the cargo ship hitting one of the bridge’s supporting pillars, almost immediately collapsing the entire structure. But many felt they had to witness it for themselves.

“It’s unreal,” one woman said, “I actually can’t believe it’s real, that it’s gone.”

Follow the latest news: Six missing workers are “presumed dead”

Many residents along the river were awakened by the sound of the impact shortly before 1:30 a.m. Jim Wood’s house overlooks the Key Bridge.

“The house shook a little,” he told me, “at first I thought it was a supersonic boom coming from an airplane, I’ve never heard a noise like that, it shook lasted six to ten seconds, and then was simply indescribable.”

Learn more about the Baltimore Bridge Collapse

In the distance, a RIB with flashing red lights circled the wreckage of the container ship and a rescue helicopter flew overhead. But as night fell, 18 hours after the collapse, all hope of finding survivors was officially extinguished.

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New angle shows moment bridge hit

Authorities said it was no longer a search and rescue operation. It is now up to specialist divers to recover the bodies of the six people still missing, all of whom worked nights on the bridge repairing potholes.

But with dangerous debris in the water, coupled with changing tides, it could take a while.

Among the missing is Miguel Luna from El Salvador. At home, a family member told me they were at a loss waiting for news.

Some of them were taken by police to a location in Baltimore where they could join other families of the missing. All of the missing people worked for Brawner Builders.

At a nearby gas station, their colleague Jose Campos wears an orange hat and a hoodie bearing the name Brawner Builders. He doesn’t know where to wait for news.

“My friends worked there, it’s a very hard day,” he told me. “My supervisor called me in the morning and told me that they had rescued one of my colleagues but he was in a coma.

“I never imagined something this horrible could happen. The path the boat goes through was supposed to be a safe zone.”

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Bridge collapse: how did it happen?

The ship had left Baltimore Harbor at 1:04 a.m. and was less than half an hour into a 27-day voyage to Sri Lanka when it sank into the deck.

The crew aboard the ship had issued a distress call minutes before impact, saying they had lost power and were heading toward the bridge.

Authorities on both sides of the bridge are said to have stopped traffic, preventing an even deadlier disaster.

“By being able to stop cars from crossing the bridge, these people are heroes. They saved lives last night,” said Maryland Governor Wes Moore.

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Some structural engineering experts said the size and weight of the cargo ship, coupled with the position in which it struck the bridge, made a total collapse inevitable.

I asked the governor if he thought that was the case. “We’re still investigating exactly what happened,” he said, “so we don’t have more details on whether it was inevitable or not, but the bridge was in fact fully compliant with code.

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Baltimore Bridge Collapse Timeline

While President Joe Biden promised to “move heaven and earth” to reopen the port and rebuild the bridge as soon as “as soon as possible,” Governor Moore admitted it wouldn’t be easy — or quick.

“This is going to be a long-term project,” he said. “We will rebuild in a way that honors those affected by this tragedy, and also do so in a way that honors the community it serves.”

Baltimore residents continue to visit the city’s best vantage point to see what’s left of the bridge. There is an element of morbid fascination here, but also a sense that for many it represents the end of an era and sheer disbelief that the bridge no longer exists.

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