Remembering the Bridge Collapse

South Padre pauses to remember bridge collapse
Eight people were killed when cars plunged off the causeway.
By Lynn Brezosky
lbrezosky@express-news.net

From: http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/article/S-Padre-pauses-to-remember-bridge-collapse-2172603.php#ixzz1Ybjx9veY

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — On the night the bridge collapsed, their vehicles suddenly plunging 80 feet into the churning bay below, those who didn’t make it simply were on their way home: the beloved city fire chief; the local surfing legend and his wife; friends out for a night on the island after a Friday night football game; workers returning to the mainland after their late shift.”

Three people survived the Sept. 15, 2001, collapse of the only bridge to South Padre Island, able to escape after their vehicles flew into a yawning gap that opened on the bridge when barges struck a concrete support piling.

Eight did not.

They were remembered Thursday at a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of a tragedy that left a painful scar on a pair of communities most known for sunshine and frivolity.

“It is impossible not to remember what happened every time we drive over this bridge,” said Joe Vega, mayor of Port Isabel, the city on the mainland side of the 2.37-mile causeway. “Never in my lifetime have I experienced a tragedy that affected so many people in our community.”
Vega was one of those speaking at the service, held by the eight-sided memorial on the island side of what’s now called the Queen Isabella Memorial Causeway.

A local official sounded taps. A U.S. Border Patrol agent played the bagpipes, another sang the national anthem. Coast Guard members and local police and fire departments lined up in uniform.

Family members of the victims clutched red roses.

State Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, presented a Texas flag to 12-year-old William Welch, who was 2 when both of his parents died in the collapse.

The Rev. Gaspar Hinojosa II, whose father was in the “little blue car trapped on the pillars,” recalled how his father fought to stay alive.

It took nearly two weeks to recover all the bodies from the underwater tangle of concrete and rebar that crashed into the water after a barge full of steel hit a support piling.

During that time, families and friends watched anxiously from the foot of the broken bridge, some from a fishing pier stretching out closer to the cranes and Navy divers.

Killed were Robert Harris, 46, Hector Martinez, 32, “Harpoon” Barry Welch, 53, Chealsa Welch, 23, all of Port Isabel; Julio Mireles, 23, of Los Fresnos; Robin Leavell, 29, of Mercedes; Stvan Rivas, 22, of Humble, and Gaspar Hinojosa, 52, of Kingsville.

A Coast Guard inquiry blamed the disaster on pilot error.

Navigators know of the sharp “S” curve leading up to the bridge, on the night in question, the currents were strong and the tug boat captain lost control of the string of barges he was pushing. A barge rammed a support piling 100 yards from the opening.

There was a thud and then the thunderous sound of two 80-foot slabs of roadway crashing into the water. Fishermen witnessed headlights, and then tail lights, disappearing into the night before realizing what had happened. They shined lights to warn motorists still on the bridge, and raced to pull survivors out of the bay.

“The bridge was broken. Cars were plunging off,” local resident Valerie Bates recalled. Another 80-foot slab fell the next morning.

Then-Cameron County Judge Gilberto Hinojosa got the first call minutes after the 2 a.m. collapse. The causeway had collapsed and some believed it was a terrorist attack, coming just four days after 9/11.

That was what ran through most people’s minds, just four days after 9/11. The Gulf IntraCoastal Waterway, the deeper midsection of the Laguna Madre bay, ran clear up the coast to the refineries of Corpus Christi; the enemy could have been targeting U.S. oil and gas.

But by the second call, Hinojosa knew it was an accident.

He was chilled at the recollection of a meeting he’d had 48 hours earlier with then-South Padre Island Mayor Ed Cyganiewicz, who’d come pleading for the county to commit to a second bridge.

“‘You know a barge could hit the causeway,’ the mayor told me. I said, ‘That’s not going to happen.’”

Even after the last vehicle was pulled out, the problems of having one of the state’s top destinations cut off remained.

Tourists were trapped on the island, those that had vehicles with them had to wait for a makeshift ferry landing to be built before they could return home. Restaurant and hotel workers were laid off, creating a crisis as the employees struggled with daily expenses.

School children had to be ferried by boat to classes on the mainland. The county lost millions of dollars in sales tax revenue.

Cameron County officials are still weighing possible routes for a second bridge.

“I think there’s a tremendous need for a second crossing,” said County Judge Carlos Cascos. “But at the end of the day, we’re still going to have to figure out at some point how to pay for it.”

Cyganiewicz on Thursday spoke emotionally of how the island’s small supermarket helped with food, and how people offered their homes to tourists who didn’t have funds for extended hotel stays.

“The good that came out of it is we became a stronger community, and we became a closer community,” he said.

World Trade Center I-beam unveiled at 9/11 memorial on SPI

From http://www.themonitor.com/news/south-54655-spi-beam.html

Author: Travis M. Whitehead

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — Nina Singh wiped tears from her eyes, the jewel in her nose shining in the warm morning sunlight, a white scarf framing the smooth contours of her face.

Singh, a 36-year-old Muslim, had just taken her young son Hades to touch the I-beam that had been unveiled in front of the South Padre Island City Hall as part of the 10th anniversary 9/11 Memorial Event. She, her boy, and her husband Fernando Duran had joined dozens of others Sunday morning to pay tribute to those who died on 9/11, when two hijacked planes slammed into the World Trade Center in New York City and third was rammed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

People attending the morning’s ceremony also recognized the courage of the crew of United Airlines 93 and the passengers — Jeremy Glick, Todd Beamer, Tom Burnett and others — who rushed the hijackers of their plane to regain control before it hit its target, which many people believe was the Capitol building or the White House. The brave souls of that flight were unable to regain control of the aircraft, but their efforts prevented it from reaching its destination; the aircraft crashed into a field in Pennsylvania, killing everyone aboard.

At the ceremony Sunday, everyone seemed to comprehend the significance of the day. Lesley Blasing, in a black dress with white floral stitching, sang, “The Wind Beneath My Wings,” while onlookers held small American flags. A baby in his mother’s arms struggled to reach for a flag held by his father; his sister in a green flowered dress held her own flag.

Numerous local dignitaries — South Padre Island Police Chief Randy Smith, SPI Fire Chief Burney Basket, SPI Mayor Robert Pinkerton, former SPI city councilman Rick Ridolfi — spoke at the ceremony. Intermittently, Smith stood up and recounted the very moment when the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed, when United Flight 93 crashed, and when the North Tower collapsed, and there were moments of silence.

Ridolfi recounted his own personal connection with the passenger plane that hit the Pentagon. He had served at the Pentagon many years earlier and was now living in nearby Annandale, Va., in a cul-de-sac where everyone knew one another.

“Two days later, I was on my way to Arlington, Va., driving down Columbia Pike, a direct west-to-east road that ends near the Pentagon,” he said to Singh and the other local patriots who had shown up for the ceremony.

“As I approached the Navy annex, near the Pentagon, I was horrified with what I saw, smoke still emerging, and emergency vehicles all around,” he said. “A shattered Pentagon.

“Of course, the news reports and papers were filled with the stories and photos of the aftermath.”

That evening, however, the news hit him on an even more personal level.

“Our neighbors, two homes down in our cul-de-sac, Robert R. Ploger and his wife, Zandra Cooper Ploger, were on American Flight 77 for a delayed honeymoon to Hawaii,” he said. That airliner had flown into the Pentagon.

“As the flag went up over the west face of the Pentagon, the American flags were posted on every home in our neighborhood,” Ridolfi said. “I know the American flags are still posted in their honor, today.”

Basket said everyone has a different image of 9/11. As a firefighter, he feels a special bond to the 343 firefighters who died at the World Trade Center trying to rescue people. There’s a photo that reflects his sentiments very well.

“The photo shows a crew of firefighters, fully bunkered out, 80 pounds of equipment, extra hose, forcible entry tools, a spare air bottle, high-rise packs,” he said. “They are making their way in and up, towards the danger. Because that is what we do, we put ourselves in harm’s way to protect others. Every firefighter, the day he signed up for this calling, for it is not just a job, it is a true calling, the day they signed up, they swore a sacrosanct oath that they would lay down their lives if necessary in order to save another life, the life of a stranger.”

After everyone had spoken, people lined up to touch the I-beam, in homage to the people who died that day. The piece of beam that had just appeared from beneath an American flag seemed to carry with it the horror, the monstrosity, the bravery, the courage, the tears it had witnessed on 9/11. Large bolts seemed to rise from the metal, writhing, twisting and turning, in a spectacle of frozen evil. Singh’s presence seemed to symbolize that the acts of 9/11 had nothing to do with religion or ethnicity; it was a crime against all of humanity.

“This is about everybody,” said Singh, who was born and raised in Baltimore. She remembers what she was doing that fateful day when she was living in Dallas.

“I heard it on the radio, because I sleep with the radio on,” she said sadly.

Everyone seemed touched by the ceremony.

“It’s overwhelming,” said Dan Quandt, 58. “Just being here, the emotions of the people being here, and of course the I-beam here.”

Cheri Palumbo had brought her two children, Jordan and Gia, to the ceremony.

“It was really moving, very emotional, and I am also really proud,” said Palumbo, 50. “I wanted them to see some part of it.”

“A lot of people died,” said Jordan, a freckle-faced 8-year old.

Eddie Leifeste and his wife Crystal had driven from Harlingen to participate in the event.

“It was great,” said Crystal Leifeste. “It was very moving.”

“I enjoyed the opportunity to be able to come over and remember that time,” Eddie Leifeste said.

Clint Robinett, an SPI firefighter, said he felt the event went very well.

“We had a good turnout,” he said.

Travis M. Whitehead writes for The Brownsville Herald.

New Year 2012 Hotel Packages

Three-Night New Year 2012 Hotel Packages

Spend your New Year’s 2012 on the beach with hotel-dinner packages at South Padre Island hotels. Book your package at the La Copa Inn & Suites, La Quinta Inn & Suites, or Hilton Garden Inn, and get a free $50 Gift Certificate for the Great American Grill!

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 Standard Room $245.00 for 3 nights
 Jacuzzi Suite, no view $285.00 for 3 nights
 Standard Room, beach view $330.00 for 3 nights
 Jacuzzi Suite, beach view $350.00 for 3 nights

Package Includes:

  • Room for 2 adults and 2 kids (under 12) for 3 consecutive nights, one of which must be New Years Day.
  • Free $50 Gift Certificate for the Great American Grill the Great American Grill Restaurant Inside the Hilton Garden Inn located on 7010 Padre Blvd.
  • Free Chocolates & Champagne.
  •  Hot Breakfast served every morning.

Call 956-761-6000 for details and to make your reservation

 

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[toggle_framed title=”La Quinta Inn & Suites Rates” variation=”green”]

 Standard Room $260.00 for 3 nights
 Jacuzzi Suite, no view $300.00 for 3 nights
 Standard Room, beach view $345.00 for 3 nights
 Jacuzzi Suite, beach view $465.00 for 3 nights

Package Includes:

  • Room for 2 adults and 2 kids (under 12) for 3 consecutive nights, one of which must be Christmas Day.
  • Free $50 Gift Certificate for the Great American Grill the Great American Grill Restaurant Inside the Hilton Garden Inn located on 7010 Padre Blvd.
  • Free Chocolates & Champagne.
  • Hot Breakfast served every morning.

Call 956-772-7000 for details and to make your reservation

 

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[toggle_framed title=”Hilton Garden Inn Rates” variation=”blue”]

 Standard Room $310.00 for 3 nights
 Partial Ocean View Room $350.00 for 3 nights
Ocean View Suite $410.00 for 3 nights

Package Includes:

  • Room for 2 adults and 2 kids (under 12) for 3 consecutive nights, one of which must be New Year’s Eve.
  • Free $50 Gift Certificate for the Great American Grill the Great American Grill Restaurant Inside the Hilton Garden Inn located on 7010 Padre Blvd.
  • Free Chocolates & Champagne.
  • Hot Breakfast Buffet served every morning.

Call 956-761-8700 for details and to make your reservation

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Christmas 2011 Hotel Packages

CLICK HERE TO RSVP via FACEBOOK!

Three-Night Christmas Hotel Packages

Spend your Christmas on the beach with hotel-dinner packages at South Padre Island hotels. Book your package at the La Copa Inn & Suites, La Quinta Inn & Suites, or Hilton Garden Inn, and get a free Christmas dinner buffet at the Great American Grill!

The Great American Grill Christmas Day Grand Buffet
Sunday, December 25, 2011
$24.95+tax Adult | $12.95+tax Kids

Carving Stations
Mom’s Oven Roasted Turkey
Cherry-Orange Glazed Honey Baked Ham
All American Roast Beef au jus
Chef’s Features
Pan-Fried Fish with Poblano Cream Sauce
Pan-Fried Fish with Bell Pepper Cream Sauce
Popcorn shrimp
Shrimp Scampi
Chicken Strips
BBQ Chicken Wings
Buffalo Chicken Wings
Catfish nuggets
Meatballs with sweet and sour sauce
Alfredo Pasta

Beverages
Sweet Ice Tea
Un Sweet Ice Tea
Water
Sides
Roasted Potatoes
Candied Yams
Wild Rice
Mashed Potatoes
Corn on the Cob
Mac N Cheese & Kids Fries
Veggie tray
Salads
Green salad mix
Ambrosia Salad
Fruit Salad
Pasta Salad
Potato Salad
Dessert Station
Flan
Key lime Pie
Brownies
Cookies
Buňuelos
Ice Cream

[toggle_framed title=”La Copa Inn & Suites Rates” variation=”orange”]

 Standard Room $235.00 for 3 nights
 Jacuzzi Suite, no view $295.00 for 3 nights
 Standard Room, beach view $355.00 for 3 nights
 Jacuzzi Suite, beach view $395.00 for 3 nights

Package Includes:

  • Room for 2 adults and 2 kids (under 12) for 3 consecutive nights, one of which must be Christmas Day.
  • Dinner Buffet for up to 4 (2 adults/2 kids (under 12)) on Christmas day with music and viewing of the NFL Football Game at the Great American Grill Restaurant Inside the Hilton Garden Inn located on 7010 Padre Blvd.
  •  Hot Breakfast served every morning.

Call 956-761-6000 for details and to make your reservation

 

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[toggle_framed title=”La Quinta Inn & Suites Rates” variation=”green”]

 Standard Room $250.00 for 3 nights
 Jacuzzi Suite, no view $310.00 for 3 nights
 Standard Room, beach view $370.00 for 3 nights
 Jacuzzi Suite, beach view $410.00 for 3 nights

Package Includes:

  • Room for 2 adults and 2 kids (under 12) for 3 consecutive nights, one of which must be Christmas Day.
  • Dinner Buffet for up to 4 (2 adults/2 kids (under 12)) on Christmas day with music and viewing of the NFL Football game at the Great American Grill Restaurant Inside the Hilton Garden Inn located directly adjacent to the La Quinta.
  • Hot Breakfast served every morning.

Call 956-772-7000 for details and to make your reservation

 

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[toggle_framed title=”Hilton Garden Inn Rates” variation=”blue”]

 Standard Room $340.00 for 3 nights
 Partial Ocean View Room $390.00 for 3 nights
Ocean View Suite $510.00 for 3 nights

Package Includes:

  • Room for 2 adults and 2 kids (under 12) for 3 consecutive nights, one of which must be Christmas Day.
  • Dinner Buffet for up to 4 (2 adults/2 kids (under 12)) on Christmas day at our Great American Grill Restaurant with music and viewing of the NFL Football game.
  • Hot Breakfast Buffet served every morning.

Call 956-761-8700 for details and to make your reservation

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