BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The Biloxi City Council voted on Monday to declare a state of emergency in their city. Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway says the emergency declaration authorizes the state Department of Transportation to take over the bridge repairs and seek Federal Highway Emergency funding to pay for the project.
"I still think the city made the right choice of partnering with MDOT to get this done, because it's a lot quicker and easier and cheaper for the city than it is for us to go on our own," said Mayor Holloway.
"I think it's going to help. We're still in partners with the city. It's still their bridge. By all means we're going to help them and expedite it and make sure the citizens of Biloxi and the Gulf Coast have a repaired bridge that meets the safety criteria," said MDOT Engineer Kelly Castleberry.
How long the repairs will take hinges on how badly the bridge is damaged. Initially, city leaders thought only one 60 foot section collapsed, when one of eight barges struck it early Friday morning. Over the weekend, they discovered that two 90 foot sections and at least eight pilings fell into the water. One barge is still submerged, and crews are still trying to remove huge chunks of debris.
"It may take a couple of days. It just depends on how fast we can get the material unloaded off the barge and get the remainder of the bridge on top of it off, and allow some air bags to get underneath it and float that barge to the surface and remove it from the site," said Castleberry.
On Wednesday, divers contracted by MDOT will conduct in-depth underwater inspections of parts of the bridge that are still standing. Their survey will help determine if there are any more damage. MDOT says by next week, they should know the extent of the damage, estimated cost, and how long it will take to fix span.
The mayor says he's still optimistic that the repairs will be done within 60 days. He added that any insurance money the city recoups from the tugboat company will go back to the Federal Highway Administration.
The Coast Guard and Mississippi Department of Marine Resources are still investigating the accident.