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The latest on the Baltimore Key Bridge collapse: Live updates

5:15 PM ET, March 27, 2024

Cargo ships were a fraction of the size and weight when the Francis Scott Key Bridge was built, records show

From CNN's Kurt Devine, Casey Dolan and Isabelle Chapman

When a container ship collided with the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore on Tuesday, it gave way Catastrophic collapse It is thought to have killed six people and taken out one of the region's key infrastructure links.

But it's not the first time such an impact has occurred: four decades ago, another container ship that lost power crashed into the same bridge — and it stood strong.

The drastic difference in outcome between the two accidents is an example of the risks involved Massive increase in ship size In the intervening decades. It also raises the question of whether changes to the bridge's design could have prevented the collapse.

A CNN review of public records and interviews with about a dozen bridge and shipping experts found that hundreds of bridges over U.S. waterways were built decades ago when container ships were a fraction of the size and weight they are today. Bridges of the era when the Key Bridge was built were not designed to protect against collisions with large ships such as the Daly, the ship that caused the Baltimore disaster.

Some experts said this week's disaster should prompt engineers to reassess whether America's aging infrastructure can withstand the impacts of the gigantic ships crossing our waterways today.

“It's absolutely a wake-up call,” said Rick Geddes, professor and director of the Program on Infrastructure Policy at Cornell University. “The builders of the Francis Scott Key Bridge never thought about ships of this size. It's not their fault – they just don't have a crystal ball.

Read CNN's full investigation How modern ships stack up against aging bridges.

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