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After Baltimore bridge collapse, emergency crews respond to mass casualty event


Emergency crews are responding to a mass casualty event at the scene of a major bridge collapse in Maryland. A more than a mile-and-a-half long bridge in Baltimore partially collapsed overnight. Search and rescue is now underway.


Yeah. A container ship collided with the Francis Scott Key Bridge early Tuesday morning, causing multiple vehicles to fall into the water. A video feed of the bridge captures the collapse. It shows the boat and bridge catching fire. The pillar that the ship crashed into crumbles. The concrete arches and roadways sway in the air, then plunge beneath the water's surface. At a press conference this morning, Baltimore Fire Department Chief James Wallace described the rescue operations.

JAMES WALLACE: We were able to remove two people from the water. One individual refused service and refused transport. Essentially, that person was not injured. However, there was another individual that's been transported to a local trauma center that is in very serious condition.

FADEL: Wallace said sonar equipment has detected submerged vehicles in the water. Emergency officials have called this a, quote, "developing mass casualty event."

ELLIOTT: Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said he never imagined that you would see the Francis Scott Key Bridge break apart and fall into the water below.

BRANDON SCOTT: This is a unthinkable tragedy. We have to first and foremost pray for all of those who are impacted. Those families. I pray for our first responders and thank them, all of them working together - city, state, local - to make sure that we are working through this tragedy.

ELLIOTT: Fire officials say they expect to be in a continued search and rescue operation pattern right now, and they may be looking for upwards of seven individuals. New details are coming at a news conference underway right now. WYPR's Matt Bush is there, and we checked in with him earlier this morning.

MATT BUSH, BYLINE: Right now, what we know is around 1:30, a ship struck the Francis Scott Key Bridge and collapsed parts of it. I'm about maybe a quarter of a mile away from it right now. The problem is we can't tell how much of the bridge is collapsed, at least from this vantage point, 'cause it's still dark. And there may not be much of the bridge left to see as a Maryland Transportation Authority person told us.

ELLIOTT: Tell us more about this bridge and how it's used daily. I take it this is a very busy traffic corridor.

BUSH: It is. There are three crossings of the Patapsco River, which goes into downtown Baltimore off the Chesapeake Bay. There are three interstate crossings of the Patapsco River. And this is the only bridge. The other two are tunnels, the Fort McHenry Tunnel on Interstate 95 and the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel on Interstate 895. This is a very busy, visibly used bridge, not just by people in Baltimore, but anyone who has driven up and down the East Coast, particularly between New York and D.C. This is one of the three ways to get through Baltimore on the interstates, and this is the one that's furthest away from downtown. So many people trying to avoid downtown traffic end up using this.

ELLIOTT: So do we know if there were any previous safety concerns about this bridge or the boat traffic below it?

BUSH: No. Not at this time. This bridge opened in 1977. Really, the most recent conversation about it was whether tolls on the bridge were going to be going up. So we don't know any of that. Again, the port of Baltimore is here, obviously an exceptionally busy waterway and cargo shipping area.

ELLIOTT: Well, thank you for being there at the scene. That's WYPR's Matt Bush. Thank you.

BUSH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Leila Fadel
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Debbie Elliott
NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.
Matt Bush