Key Bridge collapse brings haunting memories of Queen Isabella Causeway tragedy in Texas

Eight people were killed on Sept. 15, 2001

The scenes in Baltimore following the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge are hauntingly familiar to many in South Texas who remember the accident nearly 23 years ago that brought down the Queen Isabella Causeway in Port Isabel.

On Sept. 15, 2001, a tugboat and barge struck the bridge. Eleven people driving on the bridge plunged into the water as the causeway collapsed. Only three of them survived.

The victims include: Bob Harris, Hector Martinez, Jr., Barry and Chelsea Welch, all of Port Isabel; Julio Mireles of Los Fresnos; Robin Leavell of Mercedes; Stvan Francisco Rivas of Humble and Gaspar Hinojosa of Kingsville.

The bridge has since been rebuilt and is now known as the Queen Isabella Memorial Causeway.

In the video player above, watch KSAT’s 2021 report on the 20th anniversary of the tragic Queen Isabella Causeway collapse near South Padre Island.

FILE - A section of the Queen Isabella Causeway is shown missing as crews break from their search and rescue due to a stormm in Port Isabella, Texas on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2001. A container ship struck a major bridge in Baltimore early Tuesday, March 26, 2024, causing it to plunge into the river below. From 1960 to 2015, there have been 35 major bridge collapses worldwide due to ship or barge collision (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File) (AP2001)
On Sept. 15, 2001, a barge crash led to the collapse of the Queen Isabella Causeway. (© Valerie D. Bates)

From 1960 to 2015, there were 35 major bridge collapses worldwide due to ship or barge collisions, with a total of 342 people killed, according to a 2018 report from the World Association for Waterborne Transport Infrastructure.

Eighteen of the collapses happened in the United States:


March 20, 2009: A vessel pushing eight barges rammed into the Popp's Ferry Bridge in Biloxi, Mississippi, resulting in a 150-foot section of the bridge collapsing into the bay.


May 26, 2002: A barge hit the Interstate 40 bridge over the Arkansas River at Webbers Falls, Oklahoma, collapsing a 500-foot section of road and plunging vehicles into the water. Fourteen people died and 11 were injured.


Sept. 15, 2001: A tugboat and barge struck the Queen Isabella Causeway in Port Isabel, Texas, causing a midsection of the bridge to tumble 80 feet into the bay below. Eight people died after motorists drove into the hole.


April 14, 1998: The Anne Holly tow traveling through the St. Louis Harbor rammed into the center span of the Eads Bridge. Eight barges broke away. Three of them hit a permanently moored gambling vessel below the bridge. Fifty people suffered minor injuries.


Sept. 22, 1993: Barges being pushed by a towboat in dense fog hit and displaced the Big Bayou Canot railroad bridge near Mobile, Alabama. Minutes later, an Amtrak train with 220 people aboard reached the displaced bridge and derailed, killing 47 people and injuring 103 people.


May 28, 1993: The towboat Chris, pushing the empty hopper barge DM3021, hit a support tier of the Judge William Seeber Bridge in New Orleans. Two spans and the two-column bent collapsed onto the barge. Two cars carrying three people fell with the four-lane bridge deck into a canal. One person died and two people were seriously injured.


May 9, 1980: The 609-foot freighter Summit Venture was navigating through the narrow, winding shipping channel of Florida’s Tampa Bay when a sudden, blinding squall knocked out the ship’s radar. The ship sheared off a support of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, dropping a 1,400-foot section of concrete roadway during the morning rush hour. Seven vehicles, including a bus with 26 aboard, fell 150 feet into the water. Thirty-five people died.

** The Associated Press contributed to this report

About the Author

Julie Moreno has worked in local television news for more than 25 years. She came to KSAT as a news producer in 2000. After producing thousands of newscasts, she transitioned to the digital team in 2015. She writes on a wide variety of topics from breaking news to trending stories and manages KSAT’s daily digital content strategy.

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