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Salvage crews face huge obstacles as the rush is on to reopen Baltimore's harbor

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Workers face a dangerous and complex recovery in cleanup operation at the Port of Baltimore. New sonar pictures show mangled parts of the Francis Scott Key Bridge at the bottom of the water there. A crane is unloading containers from that cargo ship that struck and destroyed the bridge last month. So we've called up Maryland Governor Wes Moore to discuss the latest on these efforts. Governor, welcome back to the program.

WES MOORE: Good morning. Thanks so much for having me.

INSKEEP: How much shipping traffic can move through the port at this time?

MOORE: So it's been amazing. And this has been a 24/7 operation where we've had emergency personnel and the Coast Guard, the Navy SUPSALV and also the Army Corps of Engineers who have just been working around the clock. And despite the massive devastation that happened two weeks ago, and again, I can't overstate what it means to have a ship the size of the - of - the size of the Eiffel Tower...

INSKEEP: Yeah.

MOORE: ...That is the weight of the Washington Monument that's now sitting in the middle of the Patapsco River. But even despite that, because of all the work, we've now been able to open up two channels. So we now have a draft of up to 14 feet that can allow for small boats and barges. Some elements of commercial traffic. There have been 50, 59 commercial trades that have been made thus far. But we still know that we've got a long road to go to get us back to the 50-foot draft and the normal traffic that the key bridge and that the Port of Baltimore required and was able to provide prior to the collapse.

INSKEEP: I guess we'll just note for people when you say 50-foot draft, you mean 50 feet of water or enough water for a ship that goes 50 feet below the surface to get through. That's what the biggest cargo ships need.

MOORE: That's exactly right. And we're talking about cargo ships that - if you look - think about the Dali, which is the ship that is currently stuck, it has 3 to 4,000 tons of steel, which, you know, formerly the Key Bridge that was sitting on top of it, you know, that ship, that vessel, had 4,000 containers...

INSKEEP: Yeah.

MOORE: ...On it. And each container, when it was empty, weighed about 1 1/2 tons. So that's the extent - that's the size of these ships that were going through. And that's the - that is the complication why this operation is not just complicated, but frankly, still very dangerous.

INSKEEP: Governor, we had an investigation here on NPR News of the bridge collapse. And it found something that's obvious once you know to look for it in the photos, there were only these little, tiny bits of concrete to block a ship from striking that bridge support known as dolphins. There could have been more. Other bridges across the country have more - bigger dolphins, entire islands. Do you feel you understand why that bridge was not protected?

MOORE: Well, I know that NTSB is still going through an investigation. And the thing that I ask is that I want this investigation to be speedy. I want this investigation to be thorough. And I want if there are people who need to be held to account for why that happened and why we still have, you know, why we lost six Marylanders and there's still three souls that are still unaccounted for, that we still are working around the clock to find their bodies. You know, I want accountability for that. The other thing that I know is that we have to make sure that all of our critical infrastructure and our state is fully fortified because the No. 1 criteria, the No. 1 foundation for anything that we have when it comes to our critical infrastructure and our society, it's safety. And so if there are adjustments that need to be made, they will be made. But I will allow NTSB to finish their investigation.

INSKEEP: Got about 30 seconds left. I want to ask a question about President Biden. Democrats, your party, was feeling a lot of anxiety about his chances a couple of months ago. Has that changed at all recently?

MOORE: Well, I can tell you, I mean, the president was just with us on Friday. The president and the Biden administration has been with us every step of the way. I have always been a core supporter and will always be a core surrogate for the president. And I think his actions and the actions of his administration over these past two weeks just continue to demonstrate why. They - literally from 3 o'clock in the morning, the night of the tragedy, was when I got my first call from the White House.

INSKEEP: But you're confident he's going to win in November.

MOORE: I'm confident he's going to win in November, because I'm confident that the American people know that this is the steady hand and the future-facing vision that the country needs and that the country is hoping for.

INSKEEP: OK. Governor Wes Moore of Maryland, thanks so much. Really appreciate your time.

MOORE: Thank you all so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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