UPDATE – Coast Guard: Waterway open at damaged Biloxi span

Published 8:36 pm Monday, March 23, 2009

The Coast Guard reopened the waterway Monday at the damaged Popp’s Ferry Bridge in Biloxi and approved a salvage plan to remove sunken barges and debris.

The heavily traveled drawbridge on Biloxi’s Back Bay was closed Friday after a barge hit it. Two 90-foot sections of the bridge were destroyed along with eight pylons. The total length of the bridge is more than 3,983 feet and salvage operations were to begin immediately.

The cause of the bridge accident is under investigation.

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Meanwhile, Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway wants the bridge repaired before hurricane season and he plans to ask the city council to declare a state of emergency to get the work done in 60 days or less.

Holloway has met with the city’s structural engineers and officials from the Mississippi Department of Transportation after surveying the damage. He said the bridge is critical for day-to-day travel and that’s why he wants a state of emergency declared.

“I want to count the repair time in days, not weeks or months,” Holloway said. “We’re not too far away from the June 1 opening of hurricane season, so I want a state of emergency declaration to let our state and federal partners know the enormity of this situation.”

A tugboat and several of the eight barges it was pushing upstream were removed, and a crane was moved in so salvage crews could remove the remaining debris. The lead barges were involved in the collision, with one sinking and the other listing due to being covered by a portion of the collapsed bridge, the Coast Guard said.

Officials said bridgetender Margaret Johnson was the only person on the bridge at the time of the crash and was able to escape.