Baltimore port workers receive state aid, slowly get back to work

A bulk carrier moves through a newly opened deep-water channel in Baltimore after being stuck in the harbor since the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed four weeks ago, Thursday, April 25, 2024. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)(AP/Matt Rourke)

More on the Baltimore Key Bridge collapse

Things are slowly getting back to normal at the Port of Baltimore where thousands of workers are waiting for the shipping channel to fully reopen following the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge a month ago.

Right now, the channel is only partially open.

“We’re doing a little bit better,” said Scott Cowan, president of the longshoremen’s union in Baltimore.

Cowan represents thousands who work at the port.

“It’s not what we’re looking for yet, but it’s a step in the right direction,” Cowan said, noting that it will be another month or so before the shipping channel is fully back to normal.

Even when that does happen, Cowan said it won’t be like flipping on a light switch.

“I’m sure it’s going to be a slow roll with cargo coming in because that stuff is booked weeks in advance,” said Cowan.

Longshoremen, truckers and small business owners have seen their jobs impacted by the collapse, prompting local and state officials to prioritize reopening the port and restoring its traffic to normal capacity in hopes of easing the economic ripple effects of the collapse.

State officials have established various assistance programs for unemployed workers and others impacted by the closure.

“It’s a program that they’ve set up in conjunction with unemployment,” Cowan explained. “They’ve also set up a worker retention program for some of the employers and program for small businesses, so they did a little bit for each entity.”

The bridge collapsed March 26 after being struck by the cargo ship Dali, which lost power shortly after leaving Baltimore, bound for Sri Lanka.

Those operating the ship issued a mayday alert with just enough time for police to stop traffic, but not enough to save a roadwork crew filling potholes on the bridge.

Authorities believe six workers — immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — plunged to their deaths in the Patapsco River.

Four bodies have been recovered from the underwater wreckage while two remain missing.

Crews have been working around the clock to clear thousands of tons of mangled steel and concrete from the entrance to Baltimore’s harbor.

Given the magnitude of the disaster, Cowan said it’s astounding that the process has been moving so quickly and on schedule.

“As bad as it was, if (the) thing wasn’t opened up, it could have been a lot worse,” Cowan said. “We are very fortunate.”

In the meantime, both the FBI and the National Transportation Safety Board are conducting probes to determine what caused the ship to lose power and strike the bridge.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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