Baltimore bridge collapse: Biden to visit Friday as cleanup continues

President Biden will visit the site of the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore on Friday and will meet with Maryland Governor Wes Moore and other state and local officials as efforts to clear a key maritime shipping artery continue, the White House has said.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters at the daily press briefing on Monday that Mr Biden would use the visit to “meet with state and local officials and get an on-the-ground look at federal response efforts”.

Ms Jean-Pierre said Mr Biden is “continuing to lead a whole of government approach to the collapse,” including by working with Mr Moore, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, the Maryland congressional delegation and “numerous state and local officials” to “reopen the port, rebuild the bridge and support the people of Baltimore through the unified command”.

“The US Coast Guard is coordinating a complex and highly coordinated effort to remove the wreckage with resources from the US Army Corps of Engineers, the state of Maryland and others. Crane barges are on the scene supporting the mission,” she said before noting that the Chesapeake 1000 — what she described as the “largest heavy lift crane barge on the East Coast” — has been on site since late Thursday, with the first major piece of wreckage having already been removed.

“As the President said within hours of the collapse, this administration will be with the people of Baltimore every step of the way. We are with you, Baltimore, and we will be there until we get this done,” she added.

The announcement of Mr Biden’s impending trip comes just hours after officials opened a temporary shipping channel to allow some movement of cargo vessels around the wreckage of the bridge and the ship which struck it last week.

“This marks an important first step along the road to reopening the port of Baltimore,” Captain David O’Connell, federal on-scene coordinator, said in a news release on Monday morning. “By opening this alternate route, we will support the flow of marine traffic into Baltimore.”

Officials called the temporary channel part of what they described as a phased approach to opening the port, The temporary channel has government-lighted navigation aids and has a controlling depth of 11 feet, providing a 264-foot clearance and a vertical clearance of 95 feet.

Ms Jean-Pierre also said the Biden administration is taking action to address the economic impacts of the disaster, including by launching two “business recovery centres” through the Small Business Administration which will “support impacted business owners” and aid them in completing applications for disaster loans.

In addition, she said the Department of Labour “ is working with local and state officials to determine how to assist workers” who’ve found themselves out of work because of the port’s closure, adding later the Acting Labour Secretary Julie Su is in Baltimore on Monday to meet with stakeholders.