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WASHINGTON: US authorities working on the Baltimore bridge collapse told AFP on Monday that they plan to open two small, temporary channels to let ships access the site of the incident.

These channels will initially only be open to vessels involved in the Francis Scott Key Bridge cleanup operation, and will not be big enough to allow cargo and container ships to pass through.

The first of the channels is scheduled to open on Monday, US Coast Guard Petty Officer Kimberly Reaves told AFP, adding that a second channel would open at a later date.

The temporary channels are being created as work continues on the mammoth task of clearing the harbor of the steel structure, which was destroyed in a matter of seconds last Tuesday when an out-of-control ship struck it, killing six people.

The authorities hope that removing the bridge -- by cutting it into smaller sections and lifting them out -- will help rescuers recover all the victims’ bodies as well as reopen the crucial shipping lane.

- No public use -

“The channel is being opened to people involved in the response,“ US Coast Guard Petty Officer Carmen Caver told AFP on Monday.

“We have no plans as of now to open it to public use, but you may see ships transiting if they’re involved with the actual operations,“ she added.

The first temporary channel will have a depth of 11 feet, a 264-foot horizontal clearance and vertical clearance of 96 feet, the multi-agency task force overseeing the operation said in a statement.

The temporary channel “is not big enough for any container or cargo ships to pass through,“ Caver told AFP, adding: “They’re working on a plan to make it slowly open to more and more people.”

The port of Baltimore is a key hub for the auto industry, handling almost 850,000 autos and light trucks last year -- more than any other US port -- according to Maryland state figures.

It also ranked first for farm and construction machinery, as well as imported sugar and gypsum, and second for coal exports.

The port’s ongoing closure is already hitting the US economy, Maryland Governor Wes Moore told MSNBC on Sunday.

“It’s impacting people all over the country,“ he said. -AFP