TX bridge collapse brings tragedy

BY PJ HELLER | PORT ISABEL, TX | September 17, 2001

Efforts to locate victims missing after a portion of a major bridge

collapsed were suspended Sunday because of safety concerns.

At least five people were killed early Saturday after

four barges slammed into a piling of the Queen Isabella

Causeway, the only link between the small fishing

village of Port Isabel on the mainland and South Padre

Island, a popular tourist destination.

Among the dead was Robert Harris, fire marshal in Port


An unknown number of people were missing after between

five and 10 cars plunged 85 feet into the water. At

least 13 people were pulled from the water. Several of

them were hospitalized.

Two 80-foot spans of the 2.37-mile four-lane causeway,

the state's longest bridge, collapsed after the pre-dawn

crash. A third 80-foot span collapsed Saturday

afternoon, prompting authorities to halt recovery

operations until the structural integrity of the rest of

the causeway could be determined by the Texas Department

of Transportation.

Recovery work was not expected to resume until late

Sunday or Monday.

Officials said the incident was unrelated to terrorist

attacks in New York and Washington. The cause of the

crash was under investigation. Officials said the tug

operator passed a sobriety test. None of the coiled

steel and phosphate aboard the barges spilled into the

waterway, officials said.

Telephone service was knocked out to the island. A water

pipe to the island was also severed leaving islanders

with only available supplies available there. Ferry

service was implemented to transport people on the

island to the mainland.

More than 7 million vehicles used the bridge in 1999,

according to state officials.

Padre Island has about 2,000 permanent residents but its

population swells to 200,000 during college Spring

Break. Hotels were 70 percent booked on Saturday when

the crash occurred.

Prior to the accident, officials had considered building

a second causeway, this one from Laguna Vista to the

island. Officials said the second bridge was needed in

case of a hurricane evacuation.

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