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Two More Vehicles Pulled From Water

September 19, 2001

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PORT ISABEL, Texas (AP) _ A crane hoisted two more vehicles from the water Tuesday, four days after the deadly collapse of the Queen Isabella Causeway, the only road to South Padre Island.

At least five people were killed after barges slammed into a bridge pillar early Saturday, eventually toppling three 80-foot spans. Unknowing drivers plummeted off the road and into the water below.

One of the vehicles retrieved Tuesday contained the body of 32-year-old Hector Martinez of Port Isabel, said Trooper Adrian Rivera, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety.

The department said authorities had recovered the bodies of Port Isabel Fire Chief Robert Harris, 46, Stvan Rivas, 22, Robin Leavell, 29, and Giaspar Hinojosa.

The bridge is the only one linking the mainland to South Padre Island, one of the Gulf Coast’s premier tourist destinations.

Authorities say as many as four people remain missing, and that the recovery is taking much longer than expected. The wait was wearing on friends and family members of those still missing.

``There’s so much debris, it’s difficult to orient yourself,″ said lead diver Lt. Lynn Dixon.

Repairs to the structure could take four months and cost $5 million. Demolition, expected to begin this week, means there will be limited access to the island, which includes a 5-mile strip of hotels, water parks, restaurants and shops, Cameron County Judge Gilberto Hinojosa said.

In the meantime, ferries were set up for travel between the mainland and the island.

Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Robert Wyman said the five operators of the tug pushing the 400-foot barge will be subpoenaed next week.

Investigators will look into whether the barges were overloaded, whether the skipper was awake at the time of the accident and whether the vessel had sufficient power to maneuver its way through the currents.

The president of Brown Water Towing Inc., which owns the tug, has said that navigation lights on the causeway were not working at the time of the crash.

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On the Net:

South Padre Island: http://www.sopadre.com

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