Bomb threat shuts down Queen Isabella Causeway


City of Port Isabel | Courtesy photo
Several law enforcement officers are seen at the base of the Queen Isabella Memorial Causeway in Port Isabel on Monday, Sept. 13, 2020. The causeway was shut down due to a bomb threat.

A call from an unidentified male came in to the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office just before 8 p.m., Port Isabel City Manager Jared Hockema said.

“The caller stated that an explosive device had been placed on the bridge. There was no information about who the caller is or what the motivation is or whether or not it’s true, but out of an abundance of caution, DPS did have the causeway closed,” Hockema said.

The sheriff’s department transferred the phone call to South Padre Island police, where the call was either dropped or disconnected, South Padre Island City Manager Randy Smith said.

“At that point, DPS was notified and TxDOT contacted us saying, ‘Please shut the causeway down,’” said Smith, who served as the Island’s police chief for more than a decade prior to becoming city manager.

Messages left with DPS were not immediately returned Monday night.

Crews from the U.S. Coast Guard were dispatched to assist the Department of Public Safety in examining the underside of the bridge, and the Brownsville bomb squad was also called in, Hockema said.

“They’re on scene doing that right now. And of course, additional support has been requested from the Brownsville bomb squad just in case there’s anything that needs to be checked into,” Hockema said.

Thus far, however, no suspicious devices have been found, according to both city managers. But the threat Monday evening comes just one day before the 19th anniversary of the Queen Isabella Causeway collapse.

On Sept. 15, 2001 — just days after the 9/11 attacks — a barge struck the center pylons of the bridge, bringing down two spans at the center of the bridge in the dark of night.

Unable to see the gap that yawned at the height of the bridge’s incline, eight people died that night when their vehicles drove off the bridge 70 feet into the water below.

In the immediate aftermath, it was unclear what had caused the bridge to collapse, and some, at first, feared a repeat of the terrorism that had visited the nation just days prior.

Courtesy: sopadre.com

Hockema spoke of the timing of Monday night’s bomb threat, saying, “It’s very surreal standing here having been in a similar position 19 years ago almost to the day.”

“I think anyone to make this type of threat on the eve of the 19th anniversary of that terrible loss, it’s a very cruel act, if it is in fact a hoax call,” Hockema said, adding that Port Isabel lost its own fire chief, Robert Harris, that night.

The date wasn’t lost on Smith, either, who began his tenure with SPIPD a year after the collapse.

“There’s a lot of theory about that tonight in the conversations I’ve had with people,” Smith said.

“You just never know, but you always have to err on the side of safety and caution,” he added a moment later.

Though the timing of Monday’s bomb threat has caused memories of 2001 to resurface, Hockema said it has also allowed for the Laguna Madre community’s resilience to shine again, as well.

“We always remember the loss that we had but also what we learned about the community, about our friends and neighbors,” he said.

“Here, today, I’m reminded of all those lessons once again,” Hockema said.

This isn’t the first time the causeway has been closed due to a bomb scare.

In May 2017, a woman driving over the bridge became concerned when she noticed the expansion gaps in the concrete slabs that make up the bridge deck.

Built in to allow the bridge to expand and contract with the temperature, the woman mistook the gaps as a pending structural failure in the bridge.

The woman called authorities to report the bridge was unsound, then hung up before they could ask for more information.

Then, as now, authorities closed the bridge until DPS could ensure it was safe. The bridge was reopened a few hours later.

This is a developing story.



Source link