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Major US bridge collapses as cargo ship plows into pylon

The steel frame of the Francis Scott Key Bridge sits on top of a container ship after the bridge collapsed in Baltimore. — AFP
The steel frame of the Francis Scott Key Bridge sits on top of a container ship after the bridge collapsed in Baltimore. — AFP

BALTIMORE: A major bridge in the US city of Baltimore collapsed early Tuesday after being struck by a container ship, sending multiple vehicles and people plunging into the frigid harbor below.

Dramatic nighttime footage showed a 300-meter vessel hitting a pylon of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, bringing most of the steel-built structure crashing into the Patapsco River within seconds.

Vehicles could be seen on the road surface as the bridge warped and crashed in sections, with the third tranche cantilevering upwards before it, too, tumbled into the water.

Rescuers said they were still looking for at least seven people, having pulled two people free.

As daylight broke the extent of the disaster became apparent.

Twisted stanchions of steel lay draped over the deck of the ship, on which stacks of containers teetered precariously -- adding further danger to rescue and recovery work.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said maintenance workers were on the bridge at the time of the collision, an incident he described as an "unthinkable tragedy... like something out of an action movie."

Footage appeared to show the ship going dark twice in the moments before the collision, possibly indicating some kind of power failure.

There was no immediate confirmation of the cause of the crash, but Baltimore's Police Commissioner Richard Worley said there was "no indication" of terrorism.

A huge emergency response swung into action after the collision with first response vehicles crowding the shoreline.

Water temperatures were around 9 Celsius, narrowing the window of survivability and increasing the urgency for divers scouring the water, with tides also complicating efforts.

Baltimore's fire chief James Wallace said sonar had "detected the presence of vehicles" in the harbor, but declined to estimate how many.

One person was taken to hospital in "a very serious condition," he said, adding a second person recovered from the water was uninjured.

Baltimore is one of the busiest ports in the United States, handling $80 billion worth of cargo last year, including a large volume of vehicles.

The bridge's destruction could have a significant economic impact, with shipping in and out of the port suspended from Tuesday. — AFP

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