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Broken Bridge Strands Hundreds, Cuts Off Florida Keys

March 24, 1988

ISLAMORADA, Fla. (AP) _ A drawbridge that got stuck in the up position, snarling traffic for 20 miles and stranding hundreds of motorists, was fixed today after blocking auto travel to most of the Keys, police said.

″The bridge just opened,″ Florida Highway Patrol duty officer Terri Magee said at 8:30 a.m.

Rush-hour traffic on the Snake Creek Bridge is normally heavy, she said. That, coupled with the hundreds of motorists stranded when the bridge broke down Wednesday, means traffic jams will continue for a while, she said.

The 300-foot bridge is about 30 miles down the 135-mile chain of islands, and is the only road link between the southern Keys and those to the north and the mainland.

″I think every tourist in Monroe County has called us tonight,″ Highway Patrol duty officer Gregory Harris said as crews worked to fix the bridge. ″Apparently the bridge was raising ... most likely for a boat. I guess it just went up too far or the wind caught it and the gears are stuck in the upright position.″

Stranded motorists were sheltered for the night in hotels and in schools. Some drivers simply left their cars in the traffic jam and walked to nearby bars or restaurants.

″We’re completely swamped in here and it’s wall-to-wall people outside,″ said Erik Jorgensen, whose Erik’s Floating Restaurant is just south of the bridge. ″Some are impatient, but mostly they’re saying ’Give me another beer.‴

Jorgensen said he unfolded every lawn chair he owned and was serving in the parking lot.

Plantation Elementary School teacher Barbara Young said about 25 children were spending the night at the building because a bus taking about 45 of them home was stuck on the south side of the bridge.

Some students stayed at the home of friends who live on the south side, and others were fetched home by boat, she said.

The Florida Keys are linked by the Overseas Highway. Harris said the last time he could remember a similar incident was in 1981.

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