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Removal of Baltimore bridge ruins underway; search suspended

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Authorities started cleaning up the wreckage of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore on Thursday after suspending the search for the remaining four missing workers, presumed dead, who fell into the water when the bridge went down.

Eight people plummeted into the cold waters of the Patapsco River after a Singaporean cargo ship struck the bridge early Tuesday, causing the 1.6-mile span to collapse. Two people were rescued; one declined treatment and the other was hospitalized in critical condition.

Officials pulled the bodies of 35-year-old Alejandro Hernandez Fuentes of Baltimore and 26-year-old Dorlian Castillo Cabrera of Dundalk, Md., from a submerged red pickup truck near the bridge Wednesday morning, according to Col. Roland L. Butler Jr. of the Maryland State Police.

Butler said they were turning their focus to a salvage operation. Authorities halted the search for the other victims’ remains, he said, because of the dangerous conditions for the divers.

“We have exhausted all search efforts in the areas around this wreckage,” he added.

Butler said they believe the vehicles with the other victims are “encased in the superstructure and concrete that we tragically saw come down.”

Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board also provided more details about the timeline right before the ship’s crash during a Wednesday evening news briefing.

Marcel Muise, the board’s investigator in charge of the investigation, said the agency recovered six hours of audio from the ship’s data recorder.

Multiple alarms were heard from the ship’s recorder at 1:24 a.m. shortly before the ship lost power, according to Muise. The pilot of the ship asked nearby tugboats for help at 1:26 a.m. At 1:27 a.m., the pilot ordered the cargo ship to drop the ship’s anchor and issued “additional steering commands.” The crash happened about 1:30 a.m.

There were 23 people aboard the vessel when it struck the bridge, including 21 crew members and two pilots, said Jennifer Homendy, the chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, during the briefing.

The vessel was carrying 764 tons of hazardous materials, including flammables and corrosives, in 56 containers, Homendy said. Some of the containers were spotted in the water and others were “breached significantly on the vessel itself,” she said.

“It’s pretty devastating, certainly, seeing not just what’s going on with the cargo containers, but just looking at what was a bridge span — three bridge spans that is pretty much gone,” she said. “It’s just utter devastation.”

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