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Why danger remains for ill-fated ship that caused Baltimore bridge collapse

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WASHINGTON — The keel of the stricken commercial vessel Dali rests in sediment at the bottom of Baltimore Harbor, weighed down by a portion of the Francis Scott Key Bridge that it toppled last week, complicating efforts to clear the channel, according to a senior U.S. official.

Damage to the submerged steel and concrete is far more extensive and deeply buried than previously thought, the official, who was not authorized to comment, said Tuesday afternoon. Efforts continue to stablize the Dal and keep it from shifting in current.

Another official described the submerged steel and concrete wreckage as a spaghetti mess more tangled than the debris visible above the water.

The Dali lost power in the early morning hours of March 26 and drifted into a support column on the bridge, toppling steel and concrete into the harbor and killing six construction workers. At least 4,000 tons of the bridge lays atop the Dali, weighing it down and keeping it stuck in the channel floor, the official said.

Another factor complicating cleanup: a high-pressure natural gas line runs beneath the channel. Authorities reduced pressure in the line, and said late Monday that it is not in danger of rupturing, according to the command center public affairs office. A buffer zone of 100 feet has been set up around the pipeline, the official said.

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Potential severe weather, predicted for the mid-Atlantic region Tuesday and Wednesday, could make securing the ship even more challenging, the official said.

The 300-yard-long cargo ship will be stabilized with anchors and tug boats, according to the official.

Meanwhile, Corps engineers continue to analyze the massive steel truss structure that fell across the Dali and into the shipping channel. Crews began to cut up portions of the bridge on Saturday.

More:Photos, video show collapse of Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge after cargo ship collision

Refloating the Dali

Heavy lift cranes, including one capable of lifting 1,000 tons, will be positioned to help lift a 4,000-ton section that currently rests across the Dali. Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon, the commander of the Army Corps of Engineers, told USA TODAY last week that the span will be cut up into sections before removing it. Crews began cutting the bridge apart on Saturday.

Recovery efforts are further complicated by a natural gas line running under the ship and the bridge wreckage.

More:How Francis Scott Key Bridge was lost: A minute-by-minute visual analysis of the collapse

Cargo aboard the Dali will be assessed, and some of it possibly removed. Then the ship will be refloated from a "hard grounding" and moved away from the scene of the collision. The crew are still trapped on board.

No room for error

Removing the wreckage is a massive task. Much of the steel is twisted, some of it on the floor of the channel, 50 feet below the surface. Engineers must determine which portions are under tension before cutting it into pieces. Divers have to navigate currents, limited visibility, cold water and lethally sharp debris.

More:Baltimore's Key Bridge is not the first: A look at other bridge collapse events in US history

The bottom of the channel must be completely cleared of debris because huge ships like the Dali clear the bottom by no more than two feet when they're fully loaded, Spellmon said.

The Corps has also been tasked with creating a smaller, shallower channel to handle barge traffic and allow some commercial traffic to move again.

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