Biden tours site of Baltimore bridge collapse, pledges support

President Joe Biden, aboard Marine One, takes an aerial tour of the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland, April 5, 2024. [AP Photo]

President Joe Biden toured the collapsed Francis Scott Key bridge in Baltimore, Maryland, on Friday, pledging government support in rebuilding the span and reopening the harbor to full capacity.

"I'm here to say your nation has your back and I mean it," Biden said. "We're going to move heaven and earth to rebuild this bridge as rapidly as humanly possible."

The bridge was destroyed in the early morning of March 26 when a cargo ship lost power and collided with a support structure. The span collapsed within seconds, killing six construction workers who were on the bridge at the time.

The president said he was "absolutely committed" to ensuring that those responsible for the accident would pay to repair the damage and "be held accountable to the fullest extent the law will allow."

But he said his administration would also "support Maryland and Baltimore every step of the way to help you rebuild and maintain all the businesses and commerce that is here now."

The accident halted vessel traffic in the Port of Baltimore, a potentially serious blow to both the regional and national economies.

The president toured the destruction from the air as well as the ground, meeting with officials who briefed him on the response and recovery efforts. Those he spoke to included Maryland Governor Wes Moore, U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Linda Fagan and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Chief General Scott Spellmon.

"From the air, I saw the bridge that's been ripped apart, but here on the ground I see a community that's pulled together," he said.

The White House said the president also met Friday with the families of the victims near the bridge.

Last week, the White House released $60 million in federal "quick release" emergency relief funds for Maryland's initial costs and announced the U.S. Small Business Administration would provide low-interest disaster loans to eligible businesses impacted by the accident.

The Biden administration is asking Congress to authorize further government funds to rebuild the bridge. However, some Republicans in Congress have called for such funding to be offset by cuts to other government spending.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Thursday it expects to open a limited access channel to the Port of Baltimore by the end of the month. The agency said the channel would support one-way traffic in and out of the port.