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No Count of Missing in Texas Bridge Collapse

From Associated Press

Safety concerns on Sunday delayed the work to recover victims missing after barges smashed a section out of a major bridge and dropped cars 85 feet into a shipping channel, killing at least four people.

The barges hit a piling, knocking three 80-foot segments of the Queen Isabella Causeway into the Laguna Madre channel early Saturday. The bridge is the only link between the mainland and the popular South Padre Island resorts on the Gulf of Mexico.

Coast Guard spokesman Rob Wyman said a relief captain was at the helm of the tugboat pulling the barges at the time of the accident.

Amadeo Saenz, district engineer, said the west half of the causeway had been stabilized. But he said engineers found damage to the foundation of the bridge on the east side of the site where the bridge segments fell into the channel.

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The Coast Guard continued to scan the water’s surface Sunday, but officials said divers would not resume work until at least today.

An unknown number of people were missing in the 50-foot-deep Laguna Madre, part of the Intracoastal Waterway shipping route along the Gulf Coast, officials said. Thirteen people were rescued. The waterway was closed.

Michael Lorber said he was driving over the bridge when the barges struck. He slammed on his brakes but his friend, Julio Mireles, drove off the broken span. Mireles was missing Sunday.

Gov. Rick Perry toured the area Sunday and met with friends and relatives of the missing.

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Perry told reporters that crews were working to stabilize the bridge and then reopen shipping on the Intracoastal Waterway. “We don’t want to lose another life because we moved too fast to recover,” the governor said.

The 2.37-mile-long span, the state’s longest, brings visitors to South Padre Island, a spring break beach destination that draws crowds of as many as 200,000 students. "[The collapse] just cuts the island off from everywhere,” South Padre Island Mayor Ed Cyganlewicz said. “Tourism is our only industry.”

Tourists were being taken to the mainland by ferry, leaving their cars behind. A car ferry was brought in early Sunday from Port Aransas, but it was not expected to be in service until today because a dock had to be built to accommodate vehicles, Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Adrian Rivera said.

Investigators say the barges--pulled by a tugboat and loaded with steel cables--missed the intended passageway under the bridge by at least 100 yards.

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A statement issued Sunday by Stephen Mosher, president of Brown Water Towing, said its employees were cooperating with law enforcement agencies. “An intensive investigation is underway,” Mosher’s statement said.


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