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Baltimore officials open second channel around wreckage – but it doesn’t mean port is back on track

Authorities trying to bring the Port of Baltimore back to a fully operational state have opened two temporary channels around the wreckage of the Francis Scott Key Bridge but are still unable to support commercial traffic.

The bridge collapsed on 26 March after it was struck by a cargo ship similar in size to the Eiffel Tower. The incident resulted in the deaths of six construction workers, who were sent into the Patapsco River, and brought all commercial traffic coming into the port to an immediate stop.

Two other workers were injured but immediately rescued following the collapse. Four are presumed dead and officials say their remains are intertwined with debris from the structure.

As workers continue their efforts to reopen the port, shipping companies are turning to other ports across the East Coast to bring goods into the US. At least 8,000 people are employed by entities operating out of the Port of Baltimore, which takes in the largest amount of cars of any port in the country.

Complicating matters, larger commercial ships, including the “Dali”, which hit the bridge, are still unable to leave the harbour as debris remains in the channel blocking its path.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Admiral Shannon Gilreath, a Coast Guard official overseeing the response to the incident, said that the 21-person crew had planned for a 35-day journey from Baltimore to Sri Lanka.

The crew have been unable to disembark from the vessel, reportedly because they lack the proper visas to do so. Still, Mr Gilreath said that the crew has all the supplies they need and officials are monitoring the situation.

At news conferences, Maryland Governor Wes Moore has indicated that the mission to reopen the port will take longer than a month.

“I want to be clear, this work will not take hours. This work will not take days. This work will not just take weeks,” he said last week. “We have a very long road ahead of us. We understand that.”

The two temporary channels, one on the northeast side and another on the southwest are 11 and 15 feet deep. The northeast channel has a 264-foot horizontal clearance and a vertical clearance of 95 feet.

The southwest channel has a depth of 15 feet, a 280-foot horizontal clearance and a vertical clearance of 124 feet. A third channel is expected to open up soon, but officials say the timing will depend on how quickly they’re able to remove debris from the site of the incident.

The weather has made it difficult to use a crane to remove parts of the bridge from the site.

“Our operations continue but will be adjusted as necessary in response to any adverse weather conditions”, US Coast Guard Chief Officer Frank Schinao said in a news release, explaining how authorities are reacting to this week’s stormy conditions.

“The Unified Command remains committed to re-opening the port while ensuring safety and environmental protection.”