South Padre Island Disaster Vacation

Photos by David Edwards - 9/20/01
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Leaving Dallas Our Balcony Our Condo View from Balcony At Sea Ranch On Dolphin boat
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Causeway from boat Dolphin Point Fishing Boats On Dolphin boat On Dolphin boat Sunset from boat
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Causeway @ sunset Pelican Another Pelican North of town Moonrise Sunrise
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Both of us Port Isabel Lighthouse stairs Tower room Up the ladder Supply Room
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Causeway from top Lantern Room Causeway again At Pirate's Cove Flirting View from hot tub
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Damaged Causeway Evacuating Causeway from boat Boat to mainland Another view Barge that did it
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Car Ferry Red Cross Tent SPI from air SPI from air 2 SPI from air 3

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Our vacation started promisingly enough on Saturday September the 8th. Everything was fine until Tuesday the 11th. We went out to get some food around 11:00 am and heard about the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. We ate lunch in shock, watching the horrifying images on the television in the restaurant.

With the grounding of the airlines, we realized we might not be able to fly home as planned. We had a rental car, however, so we figured as a backup plan we could drive home if necessary. We tried to make the best of the remainder of our vacation--checking on the news periodically but continuing to do some touristy things.

On Wednesday we rode the Dolphin Watch boat on the Sunset Cruise. We saw dolphins and pelicans and had a great view of the Causeway. Little did we know...

Friday we drove over the Causeway to Port Isabel and visited the historic lighthouse, originally built in the 1850's. Got some more great views of the Causeway just hours before the tragedy. I called Southwest Airlines and they said our flight should be leaving on time Saturday, but that we should get to the airport at least a couple of hours early.

Saturday morning we got up and packed and got ready to go to the rental agency and check out, when someone in the condo parking lot said, "You can't get off the island. A barge knocked down part of the causeway." It had happened about 2:00 am, and several cars had fallen 80 feet or so into the water. About a dozen people were dead or missing.

We soon found out that, not only could no one get to or from the island (except by boat), but the phone lines had been knocked out, including the Cingular cell phone tower (the one that we use) that had been on the bridge. We heard that a car ferry was being brought in, but would not be there until Monday. I borrowed a cell phone at the rental agency and made arrangements to stay in the condo through Monday, changed our flight to Monday evening at 7:00 pm and extended the rental car.

Next we discovered that with the phone lines out, most businesses could not take credit cards, and no ATMs were functioning. We had to scrape together most of our remaining cash to pay for our lunch. Fortunately, the Blue Marlin, the only grocery store on the island, could take credit cards, but there had been a run of panic buying and almost all the meat, bread and bottled water was gone. We were able to get a few things to help tide us over though.

On Sunday, with almost no cash left and little in the way of food, we went to the SPI visitor's center and asked if they knew where we could get some cash. They didn't, but they did give us a free pizza and some soft drinks, and that got us through the rest of the day.

So there we were--stranded on an island. Yeah, I know, we got no sympathy. It could have been much worse. Well, it did get a bit worse. We learned that, although the car ferry was there by Monday, there was no dock where the cars could be driven on and off. One would have to be built, and that would take a week or two. People were having to abandon their cars and make arrangements to come get them later. Fortunately for us, we had a rental car--not our own vehicle. The agency we rented the car from had about 30 stuck on the island. There were hundreds of others left there. Fishing boats and tourist boats were being used to transport people off the island. The only people allowed to go to the island were permanent residents and workers--no tourists.

Monday morning we parked the rental car in the water park parking lot across the street from the marina where boats were taking "refugees" to the mainland. We really did feel like refugees, crammed onto the boat with piles of luggage. The Red Cross had a tent set up on the mainland side where we got some doughnuts and water.

The rental car agency sent a shuttle bus to pick us up and take us to the airport at Harlingen. We got there about 1:00 pm -- earlier than expected. The airport was pretty deserted. They were able to put us on an earlier flight that left a little after 2:00. Getting through security took a bit longer than usual (especially since I had to go through twice. They found my Swiss Army knife, which I had forgotten was in my overnight bag. I had to take it back to the check-in counter and have it put in our checked luggage).

The flight to Houston had only 20 or so people on it. When we got to Houston, they had the four of us who were going on to Dallas change planes. Both Houston Hobby Airport and Love Field in Dallas were practically deserted.

We finally made it home about 5:00 pm and breathed a sigh of relief. That's one vacation we won't forget.

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