Authorities discuss protocols used to inspect bridge after bomb threat

Authorities early Tuesday morning reopened the Queen Isabella Memorial Bridge between Port Isabel and South Padre Island following a Monday night bomb threat almost 19 years to the day of the bridge’s collapse on Sept.15, 2001.

The collapse occurred just four days after the 9/11 attacks and initially, it was unclear whether the disaster that left eight people dead was an accident.

Eventually it was determined that a barge struck the causeway’s center pylons, bringing down two spans and creating a gap that was not visible to drivers approaching the bridge’s incline, sending vehicles plunging 70 feet into the water below.

Monday night’s bomb threat — which came via an unidentified caller who contacted the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office just before 8 p.m. stating that an explosive device had been placed on the bridge — came as an alarming reminder of the turn of events nearly two decades prior.

Port Isabel City Manager Jared Hockema confirmed on Tuesday that the bridge reopened at 4:30 a.m. to traffic after the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Department of Transportation finished checking up and down the causeway in boats with searchlights.

Authorities then used a drone to check the surface for objects. “Anything that was spotted that was suspicious — there’s lot of debris in there — they stopped and followed up with the bomb squad. It’s a much more involved process than we’ve done in the past,” Hockema said.

The city manager said that officials with both Port Isabel and South Padre Island will be discussing and looking for methods to improve procedure in the event of an emergency on the bridge or another shutdown.

What if the threat occurred during a high-traffic period? How would authorities respond to an emergency if traffic is backed up on both sides?

As Hockema explained, residents need to get home, to school, and to work. “Maybe they work two jobs,” he said. “It’s something that weighs heavily on us.”

He added, “What if this had happened before the 4th of July? Could we have closed for eight hours and repeat this type of response? I do think we need to refine the procedures that are in place.”

“It’s not up to the City of Port Isabel or the City of South Padre Island to determine that. But, I’m sure that it’s something we’ll all be addressing. I know the City of Port Isabel will be.”