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Barge strike causes partial collapse of bridge between Galveston and Pelican Island, Texas

Pelican Island^ nearby Galveston Texas

Officials confirmed on Wednesday that a barge slammed into a bridge pillar in Galveston, Texas on Wednesday, spilling oil into surrounding waters and closing the only road to a small island.

Ronnie Varela with the Galveston’s Office of Emergency Management said that the bridge leading to Pelican Island, located just north of Galveston, was hit by a barge around 9:30 a.m. Wednesday when a tugboat backing out of Texas International Terminals (a fuel storage operator next to the bridge) lost control of two barges it was pushing. One of the barges also hit two telephone poles.  David Flores, a bridge superintendent with the Galveston County Navigation District, said “the current was very bad, and the tide was high. He lost it.”

There was no immediate information on damage to the bridge or if there were any injuries, but officials did say one person on the barge was knocked into the water and quickly rescued. The accident resulted in oil spilling from the barge into the bay and crews were working to clean it up, with the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office adding that a large piece of the bridge fell.  Galveston County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Ray Nolen said that the barge is owned by Martin Petroleum, has a 30,000-gallon capacity, but it’s not clear how much leaked into the bay. About 6.5 miles (10.5 kilometers) of the waterway was shut down as a result of the spill.

Pelican Island, which is connected to Galveston by the bridge, is home to a large shipyard, Texas A&M University of Galveston, and Seawolf Park, a former immigration station that now attracts tourists to its iconic fishing pier and decommissioned U.S. Navy vessels. The bridge has one main steel span that measures 164 feet (50 meters), and federal data shows it was last inspected in December 2021. However, it’s unclear from the data if a state inspection took place after the Federal Highway Administration compiled the data. The bridge had an average daily traffic figure of about 9,100, according to a 2011 estimate.

Editorial credit: Natalia Kuzmina / Shutterstock.com

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