Texas A&M Galveston to close for days after barge slams into bridge to island

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A barge slammed into a bridge in Galveston, Texas, on Wednesday, spilling oil into the bay, forcing a shutdown of the span and prompting the university on the other side of the bridge to close its campus through the weekend, officials said.

Texas A&M University at Galveston said Wednesday evening that the campus on Pelican Island would be closed Thursday through Sunday, citing an "extended outage of the bridge through the weekend," according to the university announcement.

Aerial images showed that a section of a rail line alongside the bridge appeared to have collapsed, with slabs of concrete piled on the barge.

No injuries were immediately reported at the Pelican Island Causeway after the incident, which unfolded shortly before 10 a.m. CT, the city of Galveston said in a statement.

Two operators were on the barge at the time of the impact, said Spencer Lewis, a spokesperson for the Galveston County Office of Emergency Management.

Lewis said that one of the operators fell into the water but was immediately rescued and that the other remained on the barge and was eventually rescued, as well. The Texas A&M marine unit rescued the operators.

The bridge, which was closed earlier Wednesday, had been reopened as of 7 p.m. CT to slow vehicular traffic, and a large line of cars was trying to exit Pelican Island, Lewis said.

The bridge is open only for outbound traffic, he said.

About 200 people were on the island at the time of the incident, and “substantially more than half” have been evacuated, Lewis said.

About 450 people — most of them students — live full time on Pelican Island. Faculty members and other workers make up the rest of the residents, he said.

A barge slammed into a bridge in Galveston, Texas, on Wednesday. (KPRC)
A barge slammed into a bridge in Galveston, Texas, on Wednesday. (KPRC)

Texas A&M University at Galveston is offering accommodations to students and faculty members who live on Pelican Island — which is also home to a fishing pier, a naval museum and other industries — but it also encouraged those who stay on campus to prepare to leave if necessary.

The university, which held its graduation ceremony last week, briefly lost power on campus earlier Wednesday, but it was restored quickly, the school said.

Classes scheduled for Thursday and Friday will either be canceled or held remotely, the school said in its evening update, and it encouraged employees to work at alternative locations. Dining services will remain open until 8 p.m. Wednesday.

The barge that hit the bridge was “carrying a base petroleum product,” the Coast Guard said in a statement.

The city said: “The collision has resulted in an oil spill in the bay. The U.S. Coast Guard is responding and will determine the extent of the spill, as well as initiate the containment and cleanup processes.”

The barge slammed into a bridge in Galveston, spilling oil into the bay (KPRC)
The barge slammed into a bridge in Galveston, spilling oil into the bay (KPRC)

The accident is the latest to plague American bridges and highways.

A container ship hit the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore on March 6, killing six people.

The Fort Madison Toll Bridge, which turns 97 in July and connects Fort Madison, Iowa, with Niota, Illinois, over the Mississippi River, was struck by a barge Thursday.

Two weeks ago, Interstate 95 in Connecticut was closed after a tanker truck filled with gasoline burst into flames and forced the closure of the one of the Eastern Seaboard's most important thoroughfares.

In late March, a family out fishing on the Arkansas River captured video of a barge hitting a bridge near Sallisaw, Oklahoma. And in April, more than two dozen barges broke loose from moorings and floated down the Ohio River in Pittsburgh, striking the Sewickley Bridge.

Galveston fire spokesperson Marissa Barnett said barges go under the bridge multiple times a day.

She pushed back against any comparisons between the Baltimore bridge collapse and Wednesday's incident.

“People have asked if this is like the Baltimore bridge. This is not that,” she said.

CORRECTION (May 15, 2024, 9:24 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the last name of the spokesperson for the Galveston County Office of Emergency Management. He is Spencer Lewis, not Jones.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com