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Salvage crews work to lift first piece of collapsed Baltimore bridge

By David Lawder and Joel Schectman

(Reuters) -Salvage crews worked to lift the first piece of Baltimore’s collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge from the water on Saturday to allow barges and tugboats to access the disaster site, Maryland and U.S. officials said, the first step in a complex effort to reopen the city’s blocked port.

The steel truss bridge collapsed early on Tuesday morning, killing six road workers, when a massive container ship lost power and crashed into a support pylon. Much of the span crashed into the Patapsco River, blocking the Port of Baltimore’s shipping channel.

Maryland Governor Wes Moore told a news conference that a section of the bridge’s steel superstructure north of the crash site would be cut into a piece that could be lifted by crane onto a barge and brought to the nearby Tradepoint Atlantic site at Sparrows Point.

“This will eventually allow us to open up a temporary restricted channel that will help us to get more vessels in the water around the site of the collapse,” Moore said.

He declined to provide a timeline for this portion of the clearance work. “It’s not going to take hours,” he said. “It’s not going to take days, but once we complete this phase of the work, we can move more tugs and more barges and more boats into the area to accelerate our recovery.”

Workers will not yet attempt to remove a crumpled part of the bridge’s superstructure that is resting on the bow of the Dali, the 984-foot Singapore-flagged container ship that brought down the bridge. Moore said it was unclear when the ship could be moved, but said that its hull, while damaged, is “intact.”

“This is a remarkably complex operation,” Moore said of the effort to clear bridge debris and open the Port of Baltimore to shipping traffic.

The bodies of two workers who were repairing the bridge deck at the time of the disaster have been recovered, but Moore said efforts to recover four others presumed dead remain suspended because conditions are too dangerous for divers to work amid too much debris.

Coast Guard Rear Admiral Shannon Gilreath told reporters that teams from the Coast Guard, the U.S. Navy’s salvage arm and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the debris from the Patapsco River’s deep-draft shipping channel would have to be removed before the Dali could be moved.

Saturday’s operation involves cutting a piece just north of that channel and lifting it with a 160-ton marine crane onto a barge. A larger, 1,000-ton crane also is at the bridge site.

The piece will be brought to Tradepoint Atlantic, the site of the former Bethlehem Steel Mill which is being developed into a distribution center for companies including Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN), Home Depot (NYSE:HD) and Volkswagen (ETR:VOWG_p). The facility’s port, which sits on the Chesapeake Bay side of the collapsed bridge, is fully operational.

Tradepoint Atlantic did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the company’s role in the salvage operation.

Maryland Transportation Secretary Paul Wiedefield said that Tradepoint officials had agreed to allow other ships to unload vehicles at the facility’s deepwater dock to be prepared for shipment to dealers.

In Oklahoma, authorities said on Saturday they shut down a portion of U.S. highway 59 near Sallisaw after a barge struck a bridge over the Arkansas River. There were no immediate reports of injuries, according to media reports, and officials would be conducting inspections of the bridge.

Five days after the tragedy in Maryland, the jobs of some 15,000 people whose work revolves around daily port operation are on hold. While logistics experts say that other East Coast ports should be able to handle container traffic, Baltimore is the largest U.S. port for “roll-on, roll-off” vehicle imports and exports of farm and construction equipment.

U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland said the Small Business Administration has approved the state’s request for a disaster declaration that allows small firms affected by the disaster to apply for emergency low-interest loans of up to $2 million through the end of 2024.

The federal government on Thursday awarded Maryland an initial $60 million in emergency funds to clear debris and begin rebuilding the Key Bridge, an extraordinarily fast disbursement. President Joe Biden has pledged that the federal government would cover all costs of removing the debris and rebuilding the bridge.


Kamala Harris pushes the envelope as Biden struggles with some Democrats

By Trevor Hunnicutt

(Reuters) -Hosting rapper Fat Joe at the White House to talk about reforming marijuana laws. Visiting an abortion clinic. Calling for a ceasefire in Gaza at the historic Selma bridge in Alabama. Walking the bloodstained crime scene of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris has stepped out of the shadow of President Joe Biden in recent weeks as part of a high-profile effort to persuade the fractious coalition of voters who sent them to the White House to give them a second term.

Harris’ evolving role comes as progressive Democrats target Biden over his pro-Israel stance, polls show him in a tight race against Republican rival Donald Trump.

As left-leaning voters question Biden’s age and leadership, a problem Trump doesn’t face with his core voters, the 59-year-old Harris is taking on more heated topics, more often and more directly than Biden. While some have knocked Harris’s performance as vice president and value to the reelection campaign in the past, she’s moved into a starring role.

Biden has defended abortion rights but emphasized women whose lives are in danger, and called it a “deeply private and painful” matter.

Harris has gone further – during a visit to Planned Parenthood in Minneapolis, believed to be the first time a sitting vice president has visited an abortion clinic, the former senator described abortion as a basic part of women’s healthcare in vivid terms.

“Everyone get ready for the language: uterus,” she said. “Issues like fibroids — we can handle this — breast cancer screenings, contraceptive care — that is the kind of work that happens here, in addition, of course, to abortion care.”

In Selma, she delivered the strongest comments at that point by any U.S. official on Israel’s offensive against Hamas: “Given the immense scale of suffering in Gaza, there must be an immediate ceasefire.”

Her use of the word “ceasefire,” a term left-leaning Democrats were so eager to hear that it had become a rallying cry, was cheered by some, although others demanded it be met with policy changes, too. Harris also pushed Israel to do more to ease what she called a “humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza.

“There is no doubt the vice-president has tried to move the conversation about Gaza to a more empathetic place but introducing new language falls flat when there is no evidence she’s pushing for a more meaningful policy shift,” said Abbas Alawieh, a top official for a campaign urging voters to protest Biden by voting “uncommitted” in the Democratic primaries.

“She needs to push Biden harder to change U.S. policy,” he said.

Current and former Harris aides disputed the idea of any difference in policy between Biden, characterizing their efforts as a difference in tone and emphasis. They said Harris’ initiatives are a reflection of areas of interest that, in some cases, date back to her time as a prosecutor.

“She’s been on the leading edge of some of the most important issues facing the country, and certainly [those] that are going to be determinative of the election,” said Dave Cavell, a former Harris speechwriter.

Biden cannot emphasize divisive cultural issues without alienating more conservative voters he needs to win, current and former aides said. As the Democrats’ “coalition leader” he needs to focus on the core economic issues that will sway centrists, they said.

To that end, he has used 11 of his 16 trips this year to competitive election states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania to promote “kitchen table” economic policies like bringing back manufacturing jobs shipped overseas and supporting unions.

Harris, the first Black, Asian and woman vice president, instead, is embracing a pugilistic role, with a “Fight for Reproductive Freedoms” tour and a “Fight for Our Freedoms” college tour, in addition to talking about the economy.


Biden has assigned Harris a number of seemingly intractable issues during her vice presidency, from the decades-old problem of migration to the U.S. southern border to pushing back on a generations-old pattern of limiting voting rights for left-leaning Americans.

Winning back parts of the Democratic coalition that has fractured over Israel policy, immigration and the economy is another big challenge.

Harris’s approval ratings hover under 40%, but she is also the U.S.’s most popular Democratic politician after Biden. Some White House aides have privately questioned her effectiveness as an administration spokesperson.

Reuters/Ipsos polling that shows Biden and Trump tied nationally also reveals a majority of women, people under 40 and Latinos disapprove of Biden’s performance as president. Each group favored Biden in 2020, helping him beat Trump.

Only 56% of Black people approved of Biden’s job performance, low figures for a group that typically votes 9-to-1 for Democrats in presidential elections.

If Trump wins white voters, the largest U.S. racial group, for the third election in a row, Biden needs a dominant showing among a diverse set of groups that typically favor Democrats.

There are some signs that Harris is in for a tough fight.

On a trip to San Juan last week also aimed at courting the 5.9 million Puerto Rican Latinos who live in the mainland United States, Harris’ arrival at a community center to celebrate the Caribbean island’s culture was shouted down by demonstrators.

Some chanted “Yankee, go home” and held signs calling Harris a “war criminal” for the Biden administration’s support of Israel in response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, despite a mounting Gaza death toll. Such protests have occurred at multiple Harris events.

She has an increasingly vocal fan in Biden, though, who once wrestled with the decision of whether to make her his running mate in 2020. Harris has worked carefully to make sure that she doesn’t appear out of sync with her boss, describing Biden and her on March 4 as “aligned and consistent from the very beginning” on Gaza.

“I love her,” Biden said, unprompted, of Harris of Feb. 6. She’s “doing an incredible job,” he added on March 18.

Read Reuters full Election 2024 coverage here: