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The mayor of Baltimore on what comes next for his city


First, though, to Baltimore, where divers are still searching the Patapsco River for victims following the bridge collapse yesterday morning. The Francis Scott Key Bridge crumbled when a massive cargo ship hit it. Six people who were working on the bridge at the moment of impact are presumed dead. The National Transportation Safety Board is leading the investigation into the crash. We are awaiting further details. Already, this has shut down a major East Coast port. Well, joining me now from that port is the mayor of Baltimore, Brandon Scott. Mayor Scott, welcome.

BRANDON SCOTT: Thank you, ma'am. Thank you for having me.

KELLY: I'm so sorry that I'm speaking to you under these circumstances. Would you paint me a picture? What does it look like there at the port today?

SCOTT: Well, the port is missing its iconic bridge. And it's just a solemn feeling to still see that gaping hole and see that bridge and know that our first responders are out there working diligently to try to bring those folks home to start some closure for those families.

KELLY: Yeah. I mean, there's so many knock-on effects, so many consequences for your city. I'm trying to imagine your to-do list when you woke up this morning. What's top of the list?

SCOTT: First thing that I did this morning, I had a few media hits, then I was out on the water. Myself, Governor Moore, the county executives from our surrounding counties, went out on the - with the Coast Guard to see the destruction up close. And it really just hurts your heart and hurts your soul when you can see that and know that folks died there simply trying to improve transit for the rest of us.

KELLY: Yeah. And I said the divers are still out there looking. Where does the search and recovery effort stand?

SCOTT: Well, they're still there. They're still there. They're still out that way, going down there, doing their work. They're going to be doing that. We could see them up close and personal, this - doing that work when we were out on the boat. And we know for us, for me, our DCFD, our fire department and our police department folks, divers are very well trained. And they're working alongside state partners and other local partners to get this recovery effort going and keep looking for these individuals. And we want to just know that those families - let those families know that we're going to be there to support them every single day throughout the endeavor, for the rest of it.

KELLY: Have you been in contact with those families? What are you hearing?

SCOTT: Every level of government has been in contact with the families, and we're going to be there working with those families through every single stage of this. This won't be something that just ends. When the cameras are gone and all the other folks have moved on, we will be here to support those families.

KELLY: What about the crew from the ship? Where are they? Are they shedding any light on what on Earth happened?

SCOTT: Well, the crew is safe. We know that those folks are safe on the vessel. And they're there. And there will be a time with the NTSB and the federal folks that are going to be going through that investigation and finding out all of those things. But of course, right now our focus is on the recovery and those families.

KELLY: Absolutely. I'm sure your focus is also on the ramifications, economic and otherwise, of a port this big coming to a standstill. What are the most pressing concerns? What are you going to do to address them?

SCOTT: We're going to work alongside our federal and state partners as we have to - know we have to get the bridge repaired. But of course, first getting the channel back open for what we need to come through there. But we're going to do that in a responsible way, in a way that every T is crossed, every I is dotted. But to make sure that we get it back open so that we can have the commerce and the things for the jobs and those families.

KELLY: What's the timeline?

SCOTT: There is no timeline right now, right? And we'll work with our...

KELLY: We're talking days though, weeks? I mean...

SCOTT: We're talking as long as it takes. And we're going to work alongside our partners to make sure that it's done the right way.

KELLY: Yeah. Do you have any sense of how many boats are trapped inside the harbor? I mean, I know ones outside that were planning to come to Baltimore could adjust and go somewhere else. That's obviously not an option for ships that were supposed to be leaving.

SCOTT: Well, of course, all of those kind of questions our port administration and folks who are leading. We know that there are vessels there. We know that there's been some offloading of stuff and to try to take to other places. All of that will be communicated in the proper time as we go throughout.

KELLY: Sure. We've heard a lot about the lack of protections or barriers around key structural supports, whether that may have contributed to the collapse. I know it's early days but plans to strengthen those when you rebuild?

SCOTT: I think everyone has to stop playing bridge engineer on social media and on TV and on radio and understand that no bridge that I know of is prepared to take a direct hit, traveling as fast as that vessel was traveling onto it, right? We're not talking about the - someone's kayak. You're talking about a freighter that is carrying lots and lots of things. And we have to be mindful of that and mindful of what happened here. And for all of those folks who are out here - not you - but all these folks are out here with these conspiracy theories and playing engineer online and on media, they have to stop because it's disrespectful to the people that lost their lives.

KELLY: Yeah, I appreciate that note of caution and focusing on first things first. Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott speaking with us from the Port of Baltimore. Thank you so much for your time today.

SCOTT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.