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Baltimore bridge collapse highlights dangers faced by immigrant workers

By MINLU ZHANG in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-04-03 09:50
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Wreckage from the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge rests on the cargo ship Dali on Monday, as efforts begin to clear the debris and reopen the Port of Baltimore. TASOS KATOPODIS VIA AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The devastating collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore has highlighted the perils for immigrant workers in the United States.

Six of the workers on the bridge — four of whom are presumed dead — were from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.

" (They were) good men, men who supported their families, men who worked hard to make sure that their families will sustain economically. They were very close to their families and their families in their country of origin," Father Ako Walker, from Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Baltimore, told China Daily.

On March 26, the Singapore-flagged container ship Dali slammed into the bridge. Two of the workers survived and were rescued shortly afterward. One was unharmed, and the other was treated in hospital and discharged.

The US Coast Guard has opened a temporary, alternate channel for vessels involved in clearing debris from the bridge, part of a phased approach to opening the main shipping channel leading to the vital port, officials said on Monday.

Crews were undertaking the complicated work of removing steel and concrete at the site of the bridge's deadly collapse after the container ship lost power and crashed into a supporting column.

Officials said the temporary channel is open primarily to vessels that are helping with the cleanup effort. Some barges and tugs that have been stuck in the Port of Baltimore since the collapse are also scheduled to pass through the channel.

On Sunday, dive teams surveyed parts of the bridge and checked the ship, and workers in lifts used torches to cut above-water parts of the twisted steel superstructure.

On the day after the bridge collapse, two bodies were found in a pickup truck at the site. They were identified as Alejandro Hernandez Fuentes, 35, from Mexico, and Dorlian Ronial Castillo Cabrera, 26, from Guatemala.

Hazardous weather conditions in recent days and the bridge's wreckage have made it impossible for divers to continue recovery operations for the four missing workers, Maryland Governor Wes Moore said.

Miguel Luna, from El Salvador and a father of three children, is among the missing. He arrived in Maryland more than 19 years ago. He left for work at 6:30 pm on March 25, worker advocacy group CASA said.

Ratneswar Roychowdhury, a regular customer of Luna's wife's food truck, last saw Luna on March 23.

"It's very sad, having known him for almost one and a half years. It's quite disheartening for everyone," Roychowdhury told CNN. "I'm really feeling sorry for his family. He has family over here and takes care of all of them."

Miseries pile up

Maynor Suazo Sandoval, who migrated from Honduras more than 17 years ago and is a father of two children, is also missing.

Sandoval dreamed of establishing his own small business in the Baltimore area.

"He was always so full of joy, and brought so much humor to our family," Sandoval's brother said.

Jose Mynor Lopez, 35, from Guatemala, was another victim. The sixth, believed to be from Mexico, has not been identified, the Mexican consulate said.

About 30 percent of workers in the US construction industry in 2020 were Hispanic, compared with 17.6 percent in the total workforce, data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics showed.

In 2022, 316 foreign-born Hispanic or Latino workers died in the construction industry, agency data showed.

Walker, whose church congregation is 97 percent Hispanic, said there needs to be appropriate mechanisms to protect migrant workers to ensure that situations and circumstances like these do not recur.

"These men will be up at 1 am, fixing the bridge, patching it so that regular ordinary people can pass the bridge safely, and so they were contributing to the development of Baltimore," Walker said.

"I think coming out of this, the powers that be need to ensure that there is adequate protection at the legal level and also the way in which migrant workers are hired, are contracted and what are the responsibilities of the companies who do these kinds of hiring."

Agencies contributed to this story.

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