By GAIGE DAVILA
The City of Port Isabel hosted this year’s memorial ceremony for the 19th anniversary of the Queen Isabella Causeway Collapse, the morning after a bomb threat closed the bridge for more than eight hours.
City leaders of both South Padre Island and Port Isabel, some of them having spent the entire night at either base of the Causeway as agencies surveyed the bridge for explosives this past Monday night, attended and spoke about the early morning hours of Sept. 15, 2001, and their lasting impact on the area.
“Both Port Isabel and SPI worked together as one, and we became one community,” South Padre Island Mayor Patrick McNulty said. “We shared in the grief of mourning the victims.”
A barge, being pushed by a tugboat, Brown Water V, collided with a supporting column of the Causeway just after 2 a.m. on Sept. 15, 2001, causing a 160-to-180-foot section of the bridge to collapse into the bay below.
Later that morning, another 60-foot section fell. Nine cars drove into the water, all going towards Port Isabel, as the captain of Brown Water V flashed the boat’s searchlights towards the gap in the Causeway. As the relief captain came into the tugboat’s wheelhouse a few moments after the collapse, the captain behind the wheel, in hysterics, said, “I can’t get the cars to stop,” according to a report by the Houston Chronicle.
The Welch’s, then-Port Isabel Fire Chief Robert Harris, Hector Martinex Jr., from Port Isabel; Julio Mireles, from Los Fresnos; Robin Leavell, from Mercedes; Gaspar S. Hinojosa, from Kingsville; and Stvan Francisco Rivas, from Humble, died that night. Morales Jr. is one of three survivors, with Bridgett Goza and Rene Mata.
Monday night’s bomb threat received a large response from area first responders, as traffic continued to build from both sides of the Causeway.
The Causeway was closed by Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) officers after an anonymous caller told an Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office 911 dispatcher a bomb was under the bridge just before 8 p.m., Port Isabel Police Department Chief Robert Lopez told the PRESS. The threat was forwarded to the South Padre Island Police Department, then to PIPD.
DPS closed both lanes of the Causeway around 8:30 p.m., with DPS and PIPD squad cars blocking Tarnava and Garcia streets.