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After Francis Scott Key Bridge collapses into river, Baltimore residents "can't believe it's gone"

Rescue efforts ongoing after Key Bridge collapse
Rescue efforts ongoing after Key Bridge collapse 14:07

BALTIMORE --  Witnesses could not believe their eyes early Tuesday morning, looking at where the Francis Scott Key Memorial Bridge once spanned the Patapsco River. The span collapsed into the water below overnight. 

A water search for six missing workers turned into a recovery effort Tuesday night.  

A large container ship struck a column of the bridge around 1:30 a.m., fire department spokesman Kevin Cartwright said. There are at least six people unaccounted for, and a massive search and rescue effort is underway. 

Footage obtained by WJZ shows a fiery explosion before the collapse, in which a ship appears to hit a strut of the bridge. 

TEAM COVERAGE: Francis Scott Key Bridge collapses in Baltimore after ship strike 08:27

'Can't believe it's gone'

A witness told WJZ's Mike Hellgren the sound accompanying the collapse was massive, shaking his home. 

"Earthquake - sounded like a big bash of thunder," the resident said. "And then just like I said it felt like an earthquake, the whole house vibrated. Like my house was falling down."

The resident said he never thought in his "wildest dreams" he would see something like this happen. 

"I've been in this neighborhood 57 years, I remembered when they built this bridge," he said. "Can't believe it's gone."

Another resident speculated about the possible implications of the crash.

"This is going to be catastrophic for many reasons," he said. "Number one, the harbor's blocked. Number two, we're not going to get any more new car deliveries at this time. Amazon is just on the other side of the river and you can forget your same-day, next-day delivery packages. The beltway is going to be a parking lot. The tunnels are going to be over-jammed."

'I was there yesterday'

"I was there yesterday," another resident told WJZ, a thought surely shared by many Tuesday morning. "To see the bridge gone knowing I was on that bridge not even 10 hours ago - it's devastating."

John, who says he grew up in the area, described the scene as surreal, adding that the structure had personal significance to him.

"That scene, that bridge - it's just surreal. Unbelievable. It's hard to believe," he said. "My uncle, he helped build that bridge, when he worked it as part of Iron Workers Local 16."

John says he's a commercial diver, and empathizes with crews dealing with harsh conditions as they try to recover bodies from the wreckage.

"And as a commercial diver, I've been in these waters, and I know what the divers are going through right now looking for bodies with no visibility, if any at all, going through the wreckage, much dirt up not being able to share things. So their job was very difficult."

'Like a war zone'

Nancy, another witness, said the scene was "like a war zone."

"I didn't believe it, to tell you the truth. And I came downstairs and looked out, and it's flabbergasting," she said.   

Nancy says she's concerned about the impact that the collapse will have on the flow of ships. 

"The helicopter pilot went out to the bay and he said look like a parking lot out there. The ships waiting to come in. Now, where are they going to go?," she said.   

'It's unbelievable'

People say they are looking at how this collapse will impact their commute for the foreseeable future and the impacts on the Port of Baltimore.

Ships cannot come in or out of the port right now.

"It's one thing to see it on TV, but to see it in person, now coming here to see the bridge, it's unbelievable," said Brian Pinson. "You know, would never expect something like this to be happening in my lifetime."

Francis Scott Key Bridge

The Francis Scott Key Bridge bridge spans the Patapsco River and is a link of I-695. Officials say commuters should take I-95 or I-895 instead

Officials said the Anne Arundel County Fire Department, the Baltimore County Fire Department , the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Maryland Transit Authority are among the agencies responding to the incident. 

The 1.6-mile-long bridge, named for the author of the Star Spangled Banner, opened in 1977 and is one of three toll crossings of Baltimore's Harbor, according to the MDTA.

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