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“The nation has your back” says Biden after visiting Key Bridge collapse site

President Joe Biden arrived in Baltimore on Friday for an aerial tour of the wreckage of the Francis Scott Key Bridge. After surveying the damage that left six construction workers dead, the president delivered public remarks.

He vowed again to “move heaven and earth” to reopen the Port of Baltimore and rebuild the Francis Scott Key Bridge. “I’m here to say your nation has your back and I mean it,” said Biden. “We're gonna get this paid for.”

Last week, the Singaproean flagged cargo ship, Dali, began to have electrical problems and veered off course. The 984-foot vessel struck a supportive pylon of the Key bridge just before 1:30 on the morning of March 26th. The middle span of the bridge collapsed within seconds, sending seven construction workers and an inspector into the water below. The inspector and one worker survived. Two deceased workers were recovered. Four men remain missing, likely encased in the wreckage.

President Biden remembered workers like Carlos, who were filling potholes when the bridge collapsed. He is one of the four workers whose remains are unrecovered. Biden said he spoke with the man’s girlfriend whose last text to her described waiting for cement to dry.

“My vow is that we will not rest — as Carlos said — until the cement has dried, on the entirety of a new bridge,” the president promised.

That promise still needs a bipartisan effort from Congress.

The Biden Administration sent a formal request to Congress Friday morning, asking it to cover the entire cost of rebuilding the collapsed bridge.

“The Federal Government should cover any needed costs for reconstructing the bridge,” wrote Shalanda Young, director of the Federal Office of Budget and Management, in a letter to congressional lawmakers. “While we continue to assess those costs alongside our Federal and State partners, we are asking the Congress to join us in demonstrating our commitment to aid in recovery efforts by authorizing a 100 percent Federal cost share for rebuilding the bridge.”

Young’s letter points out that Congress has a precedent for picking up the tab for similar infrastructure disasters.

Congress paid 100% of the federal cost share in 2007 when the I-35 West bridge collapsed in Minnesota, killing 13 people and injuring 145 more.

A rebuild of the bridge will be done with “union labor and American steel”, said Biden.

A cadre of federal, state and local government officials flanked the president as he spoke from the shores of the Patapsco River. Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said that philanthropists, business and community leaders have stepped up to support recovery efforts. The Maryland Tough, Baltimore Strong Alliance, includes more than 80 members that have committed a total of $15 million.

Major port employers such as Amazon and Home Depot are looking to keep jobs in Baltimore.

“Many have agreed to not lay off employees,” said Moore. “Many have agreed to return to Baltimore even if they need to move somewhere else temporarily. And all have agreed to help us build a better future.”

He also announced signing an executive order that authorizes $60 million in temporary relief funds for workers.

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a $3.5 million award in emergency funds to support temporary clean-up jobs at the site.

“Through this grant funding, we will prevent further, adverse ripple effects for workers and the surrounding community through training and other resources needed during this difficult time,” said Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su in a statement.

Financial concerns aside, the Commander-in-Chief also acted as the Comforter-in-Chief. “I’m here to grieve with you,” Biden said condoling the families of those who lost their loved ones.

“I can tell you from personal experience, the day is going to come when the memory of your loved one, is going to bring a smile to your face before it brings a tear to your eye. Our prayer for you is that time might come sooner rather than later.”

Wambui Kamau is a General Assignment Reporter for WYPR. @WkThee
Emily is a general assignment news reporter for WYPR.
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