George Penton answered a call from a tugboat captain. "Wilkes Bridge, Charlie Sea," was his transmission.
The bridge tender looked out toward the east end of the Industrial Seaway. He saw an empty barge, and a bridge demolition team. "Hate to see the old bridge go," Penton said. "I've got 14 years on it."
Because of Cowan Lorraine Road construction, the old bridge is nothing more than an obstacle blocking the seaway. So it had to be demolished. Allan Thompson's explosives team was responsible for blowing up the counter weight on the north side of the old bridge.
"Just go ahead and take cover, please," Thompson yelled to one of the demolition workers. Within minutes, Thompson's team would rattle the old concrete structure. "You see that wall, that thin wall down there," Thompson said, pointing to what used to be the north side of the drawbridge. Inside the wall was a mechanical device that raised the bridge. It was surrounded by thick concrete that only an explosive charge could cut through. "We're using ammonium nitrate. And we're using about 150 pounds of it," he said.
At 11:00, Gulfport police kept traffic off the new Industrial Seaway bridge. Thompson jumped in a truck and sounded the signal to detonate the explosives.
A horn blew. The signal lasted five seconds.
Then there was silence. Two long, agonizing seconds of silence, followed by a short, succinct explosion.
A small cloud of smoke came out of the center of the bridge. The explosion did its job. "There was a substantial amount of material that fell in the river," Thompson said, "which means that it broke it up significantly."
Right after Thanksgiving, the remnants of the old bridge should be gone. Tugboats will have more room to push their barges through George Penton's bridge.