Biden visits Baltimore bridge collapse: 'Your nation has your back'

President Joe Biden got a firsthand look Friday at the devastation left behind after Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed last month. 

"To the people of Maryland, I'm here to say your nation has your back and I mean it," said Biden Friday afternoon in Baltimore. 

"I fully intend … that the federal government cover the cost of building this entire bridge, all of it," Biden said. "As we’ve done in other parts of the country in similar circumstances. I stand here, I call on Congress to authorize this effort as soon as possible."

Biden assessed the magnitude of the disaster during an aerial tour of the collapse site with Maryland Governor Wes Moore, and leaders from the United States Coast Guard and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

READ MORE: Baltimore Key Bridge collapse: USACE outlines plan for port reopening within 4 weeks

The president met with the families of the six workers who died when the bridge collapsed. The construction crew - all immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador – were filling potholes on the bridge when it fell during the early morning hours of March 26. The structure buckled and gave way after it was struck by the cargo ship Dali which had lost power just after leaving the port on its way to Sri Lanka. 

Two of the workers were rescued, but the bodies of only two of the six who died have been recovered. 

"We're going to keep working hard until we recover each of them," Biden said. 

The construction company, Brawner Builders, has met with the families and has launched a GoFundMe page for donations.

"To all the families and loved ones who are grieving, I've come here to grieve with you," said Biden. "I know a little bit about what it's like to lose a piece of your soul, to get that phone call in the middle of the night." 

READ MORE: Divers who helped recover bodies after Key Bridge collapse honored

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The twisted remains of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge following its collapse after being struck by a massive container ship during the early morning hours of March 26. (FOX 5 DC)

READ MORE: Baltimore Key Bridge cleanup continues amid heavy rain, wind

Efforts to clear away the twisted remains of the collapsed bridge, which is blocking the Port of Baltimore’s main shipping channel, began shortly after the span fell into the Patapsco River.  Cranes, ships and diving crews have been working all week through relentless rain to clear debris from the water.

Two temporary channels were opened earlier this week allowing a limited amount of marine traffic to bypass wreckage of the bridge.

"Yesterday, the Army Corps announced that by the end of April they'll be able to open the third channel for some commercial traffic, including car carriers. And by the end of May, we'll open the full channel," Biden announced Friday. 

The collapse of Baltimore’s Key Bridge is diverting shipping and trucking around one of the busiest ports on America’s East Coast, causing major economic and travel disruptions to the region. 

READ MORE: Second temporary channel opens in Baltimore Port after Key Bridge collapse

The port is the busiest in the U.S. for car shipments, handling more than 750,000 vehicles in 2023, according to data from the Maryland Port Administration. As much as $200 million in cargo typically moves through the port daily. The waterway is a major route for shipping containers and cruise liners and is the deepest harbor in Maryland's Chesapeake Bay.

Biden announced Friday that $8 million in grant funds would be going to making infrastructure improvements to the port at Sparrows Point in Maryland, "the the only port unaffected by this collapse." The improvements should allow Sparrows Point to take on more ships. 

The four-lane bridge became the final link to Interstate 695, Baltimore’s beltway, when it was completed in 1977. It is a critical link for trucking and motor vehicles connecting Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York to the nation’s capital. It carried nearly 30,000 vehicles a day.

Within hours of the collapse, Biden said that "the federal government will pay for the entire cost of reconstructing that bridge, and I expect the Congress to support my effort." The Federal Highway Administration has provided $60 million in emergency relief funds to get started.

READ MORE: New 3D images show wreckage underwater as salvage operation continues