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Explained: The long list of US bridge collapses caused by ships and barges

This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows a view of the Francis Scott Key Bridge that was struck by a container ship in Baltimore

Posted on March 27, 2024

The iconic Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore collapsed into the Patapsco River on Tuesday, one of several notable disasters in the United States involving ships or barges colliding with bridges. From 1960 to 2015, there were 18 major bridge collapses that took place in the country

Baltimore, in the United States, witnessed a devastating tragedy in the early hours of Tuesday.

The iconic Francis Scott Key Bridge, a vital artery in the city’s infrastructure, has collapsed into the Patapsco River. This catastrophic event occurred when a container ship collided with the bridge, causing it to fracture and eventually plunge into the frigid waters of the river at around 1.30 am Eastern Time (ET). In its destructive descent, the bridge swept vehicles and innocent people into the depths below.

At least eight people from a construction crew who were fixing potholes on the bridge are believed to have fallen into the 185-metre-deep river, where water temperatures were estimated to be 47 degrees Fahrenheit (8 degrees Celsius) — the upper limit of what a human could survive if they fell into water.

So far, only two individuals have been pulled out of the water. One of them was unharmed, but the other suffered serious injuries and was taken to the hospital. Officials called off the search and rescue effort on Tuesday night, and the six missing construction workers are presumed dead.

Wes Moore, the governor of Maryland, declared a state of emergency early Tuesday.

All 22 crew members on the container ship that collided with the Baltimore bridge were Indians , according to the vessel’s management company, and they were all safe and secure.

The major bridge in Baltimore snapped and collapsed after a container ship rammed into it early Tuesday, and several vehicles fell into the river below. Rescuers were searching for multiple people in the water. AP

The disaster joins the list of bridge collapses caused by ships and barges, the majority of which occurred in the United States. From 1960 to 2015, there were 35 major bridge collapses worldwide due to ship or barge collision, with a total of 342 people killed, according to a 2018 report from the World Association for Waterborne Transport Infrastructure. Eighteen of those collapses happened in the United States.

Here’s a list of notable disasters involving ships or barges hitting bridges in the US:

Popp’s Ferry Bridge

20 March, 2009: A vessel pushing eight barges rammed into the Popp’s Ferry Bridge in Biloxi, Mississippi, resulting in a 150-foot section of the bridge collapsing into the bay.

Interstate 40 bridge

26 May, 2002: A barge hit the Interstate 40 bridge over the Arkansas River at Webbers Falls, Oklahoma, collapsing a 500-foot section of road and plunging vehicles into the water. Fourteen people died and 11 were injured.

Queen Isabella Causeway

15 September, 2001: A tugboat and barge struck the Queen Isabella Causeway in Port Isabel, Texas, causing a midsection of the bridge to tumble 80 feet into the bay below. Eight people died after motorists drove into the hole.

Eads Bridge

14 April, 1998: The Anne Holly tow traveling through the St. Louis Harbor rammed into the centre span of the Eads Bridge. Eight barges broke away. Three of them hit a permanently moored gambling vessel below the bridge. Fifty people suffered minor injuries.

Big Bayou Canot

22 September, 1993: Barges being pushed by a towboat in dense fog hit and displaced the Big Bayou Canot railroad bridge near Mobile, Alabama. Minutes later, an Amtrak train with 220 people aboard reached the displaced bridge and derailed, killing 47 people and injuring 103 people.

Seeber Bridge

28 May, 1993: The towboat Chris, pushing the empty hopper barge DM3021, hit a support tier of the Judge William Seeber Bridge in New Orleans. Two spans and the two-column bent collapsed onto the barge. Two cars carrying three people fell with the four-lane bridge deck into a canal. One person died and two people were seriously injured.

Sunshine Skyway Bridge

9 May, 1980: The 609-foot freighter Summit Venture was navigating through the narrow, winding shipping channel of Florida’s Tampa Bay when a sudden, blinding squall knocked out the ship’s radar. The ship sheared off a support of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, dropping a 1,400-foot section of concrete roadway during the morning rush hour. Seven vehicles, including a bus with 26 aboard, fell 150 feet into the water. Thirty-five people died.


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