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US Army Corps of Engineers plans to reopen Baltimore channel affected by bridge collapse by end of May

By Raja Razek and Christina Maxouris, CNN

(CNN) — Just over a week after the catastrophic collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, the US Army Corps of Engineers announced it plans to fully reopen the channel leading to the Baltimore port by the end of May – a significant update since the disaster halted vessel traffic and delivered a serious blow to a port critical to local and national economies.

Crews have been working to remove wreckage from the site where a massive cargo ship slammed into the bridge in the early morning hours of March 26, causing the structure to collapse into the channel and killing six construction workers. Officials are still working to find four of their bodies.

President Joe Biden will visit Baltimore on Friday to examine the wreckage area with officials and meet with relatives of the bridge collapse victims.

While the dangerous work of clearing the channel to the Port of Baltimore continues, the US Army Corps of Engineers Baltimore District said it plans to open a “limited access channel” that will be about 280 feet wide by the end of April.

“This channel would support one-way traffic in and out of the Port of Baltimore for barge container service and some roll on/roll off vessels that move automobiles and farm equipment to and from the port,” the district said.

“USACE engineers are aiming to reopen the permanent, 700-foot-wide by 50-foot-deep federal navigation channel by the end of May, restoring port access to normal capacity.”

Authorities have said clearing the channel will not only reopen a port that’s critical to the economy, but it will also allow for the continued search for the bodies of four construction workers. Officials believe they are likely trapped in the tangle of steel and concrete underwater.

But it’s a difficult and complicated task that lies ahead, state and federal leaders have said of the process to remove the wreckage.

“We have a ship that is nearly the size of the Eiffel Tower that is now stuck within the channel that has the Key Bridge sitting on top of it,” Maryland Gov. Wes Moore told CNN on Sunday.

In a news briefing on Thursday, Moore reiterated authorities were working to “give closure to (the) families” of the victims and also outlined the challenges faced by salvage divers.

“That water is so murky that salvage divers cannot see any more than 1 to 2 feet in front of them,” the governor said. “The collapse of the bridge is so distinct and so severe, with metal that is so … wrought together and pancaked that it continues to make this mission extraordinarily complicated and dangerous for those who are conducting it.”

Divers are being guided by operators who use renderings and pictures to direct them through the wreckage site, Moore added.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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