On September 15, 2001, with the nation still reeling from the 9/11 terrorist attacks, tragedy struck again in a local Texas community.
Texas city Port Isabel is connected to South Padre Island via single bridge, spanning 2.37 miles. On the evening of September 15, a string of barges struck a concrete support piling on the bridge to South Padre Island. Witnesses nearby heard a thud followed by the sound of 160 feet of concrete crashing into the water. Fisherman saw headlights and tail lights disappear into darkness as they realized that a section of the bridge had collapsed. A number of vehicles plunged through the gap in the bridge and fell 80 feet below into the bay.
The fisherman raced to help the cars in the bay and warned motorists on the bridge that a portion of it was missing. Thanks to their quick thinking, three people were able to escape their flooded vehicles and were pulled to safety by the fisherman. Eight others were not so fortunate.
Nearly two weeks passed before rescue workers were able to recover all the victims of the fatal accident. Among those killed included the parents of a then-2 year-old boy, the city fire chief, several friends who went out for the night on the island after the local football game and hospitality workers returning to the mainland after a late shift.
The Coast Guard later determined that the accident was caused by pilot error. The tug boat captain was pulling a string of barges and lost control.
Eleven days ago, the 10th anniversary of the bridge collapse was marked by a memorial ceremony in which the eight victims of the tragic collapse were remembered by their loved ones and by the community.
Several wrongful death lawsuits were filed in the months after the bridge collapse, but is unknown how the families of the victims were provided for. A federal maritime laws limits the amount of recovery available under a bridge collapse such as this.
Source: Houston Chronicle, “10 years later, deadly bridge collapse a painful scar,” 9/15/11.