Search continues after bridge collapse

Thursday, September 20, 2001

PORT ISABEL, Texas -- Divers resumed searching Wednesday for vehicles and bodies believed to be lost when a South Padre Island causeway collapsed over the weekend after a barge wreck.

Department of Public Safety divers, aided by sonar, probed the bottom of the Laguna Madre, the channel separating mainland Texas from the resort island.

Authorities said three people and two vehicles still were missing since the bridge collapsed Saturday morning. Five deaths have been confirmed, and three people were rescued by fishermen.

The barge crashed into the bridge with so much force it eventually brought down three 80-foot sections of the Queen Isabella Causeway. Unknowing drivers plummeted into the water 80 feet below.

Five vehicles have been recovered, and a sixth has been located under bridge debris. The vehicle was unoccupied.

The body of the fifth victim, Hector Martinez, 32, was found Tuesday, Trooper Adrian Rivera said.

Island's only bridge

The barge wreck closed the only bridge to South Padre Island, a popular resort vacation destination.

A preliminary investigation has found the channel was adequately maintained. It also found that the operator, a relief captain, was not alcohol-impaired and had not been working an especially long shift, Coast Guard spokesman Alan Grodecki said.

Five crew members of the Brown Water V tug, which was pushing four barges laden with steel and phosphate, have been subpoenaed for formal Coast Guard questioning next week.

The president of the company that owns the tug said the channel was mismarked, causing the boat to touch bottom, and that a Coast Guard vessel was in the area performing maintenance on navigational markers prior the crash.

"We will bring much more sophisticated equipment to survey the channel than any agency to establish this fact," Stephen Mosher of Brown Water Towing I, Inc. said in a statement Wednesday.

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