The end of an era in Baltimore after the bridge collapse leaves residents in disbelief

Hundreds of people from all over Baltimore gather on the banks of the Patapsco River in the early evening sun.

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

They had been watching the images on television all day and had seen on CCTV how the cargo ship crashed into one of the bridge’s supporting pillars, causing the entire structure to collapse almost instantly. But many felt they had to experience 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 “presumably dead”

Many of the residents on the riverbank were awakened by the noise of the impact shortly before 1:30 a.m. Jim Wood’s house faces the Key Bridge.

“The house shook a little bit,” he told me, “at first I thought it was a sonic boom from an airplane, I’ve never heard a sound like it, it lasted six to ten seconds, and then it happened.” It was simple indescribable.”

More on the Baltimore Bridge collapse

In the distance, an inflatable boat with flashing red lights circled the wreckage of the container ship, and a rescue helicopter circled above. But as night fell, 18 hours after the collapse, any hope of finding survivors was officially extinguished.

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The new angle shows the moment the bridge is hit

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

However, due to dangerous debris in the water and changing tides, completion could take some time.

Miguel Luna from El Salvador is among the missing. At his home, a family member told me they were anxiously awaiting news.

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

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

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

“I never thought something so terrible could happen. The path the boat travels should be a safe zone.”

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Bridge collapse: how did it happen?

The ship had left the port of Baltimore at 1:04 a.m. and was less than half an hour from a 27-day voyage to Sri Lanka when it rammed into the bridge.

The crew on board the ship had made an emergency call a few minutes before the impact, saying they had lost power and were on their way to the bridge.

Officials on both sides of the bridge reportedly slowed the flow of traffic, potentially preventing an even deadlier disaster.

“By managing to stop cars from driving over the bridge, these people are heroes. You saved lives last night,” said Maryland Gov. Wes Moore.

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Some civil engineering experts claimed that the size and weight of the cargo ship, combined with the position where it struck the bridge, made a total collapse inevitable.

I asked the governor if he believed this was the case. “We’re still in the process of investigating exactly what happened,” he said, “so we don’t have any further details about whether it was unavoidable or not, but the bridge was actually fully compliant.”

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Timeline of the Baltimore Bridge collapse

While President Joe Biden promised to “move heaven and earth” to reopen the port and rebuild the bridge as “quickly as possible,” Governor Moore accepted that this would not be easy – or quick.

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

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

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