Local history teachers reflect on causeway collapse 20 years later

Local News

PORT ISABEL, Texas (ValleyCentral) — When the Queen Isabella Causeway collapsed on the early morning of Sept. 15, 2001 people feared it was another attack on American soil, just days after almost 3,000 lost their lives during the 9/11 attacks.

Decades later – the community knows more about the collapse tragedy that took the lives of eight people and affected the lives of hundreds of families, but the feelings of anxiety are still here today.

“We got up and went downstairs and went out and were like, ‘what’s going on?’” said Dorothy Gonzalez, a Port Isabel resident that recalls her and her husband waking up suddenly from people talking outside their window.

“They’re like, ‘something just happened at the bridge. We don’t know what it is – but something is going on.’” Gonzalez said. “We go out on the deck and can see that probably around 160 feet of the bridge is missing. It had collapsed.”

She could see it all from a window in her home – and she could feel the heavy weight of the tragedy unfold right before her eyes.

 “That’s the only way over from the mainland to the island,” Gonzalez said. “So, all the people who live over there were affected. All the people who worked on the island, it affected the kids, too. I mean, think about the kids going to school at that time, they had to be brought on boats, water taxis, to even come to school.”

Gonzalez was a stay-at-home mom then. Now, she’s a history teacher at Port Isabel Middle, teaching life lessons to students.

“Even though they weren’t born then, it affected somebody if they’re from here, it probably affected somebody in their family,” Gonzalez said.

It also affected Mr. Danno Wise, he’s a history teacher now… but at the time, he was a journalist — trying to figure out fact from fiction.

“It was just too coincidental,” Wise said. “It took a while for community members to think otherwise, but there were thorough investigations involved in everything because of the 9/11 attacks.”

The Queen Isabella Causeway collapse is not just another chapter in his class curriculum, it’s a conversation he has with his students.

“It really shaped our community. Trying to deal with the business end, what are the economics there…but also the human side there, and all the lives that were affected,” Wise said. “We had victims that were children, we had victims that had relatives and friends… so, you have a large portion of the community who is affected by that.”

Both history teachers are honoring the lives lost and teaching their students how community rallies and moves on together.

The causeway was renamed the Queen Isabella Memorial Causeway in honor of the eight lives lost that day.

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