Two Workers Killed When Damaged Casino Barge Collapses

Two marine salvage workers died Tuesday in Gulfport when part of the damaged Grand Casino barge they were working on collapsed.

One man was from Virginia. The other, the coroner tells us, was from Mexico. They came to Gulfport with a subcontracting team hired to tear apart the casino barge.

Late on Tuesday, near the end of their shift, both men suddenly disappeared. Somehow, they got stuck in the belly of Grand's hurricane damaged barge. And they never made it out alive.

The setting sun provided an ominous light for Gulfport firefighters. For a brief few moments, it created a ray of hope for the city's rescue specialists.

"We were hoping that maybe they had fallen and were injured, couldn't get out. And that we would find them alive and that we would be able to rescue them," Gulfport Fire Chief Pat Sullivan said.

But as light quickly disappeared, reality set in. Rescue personnel on the barge sent word across their radios -- they needed two body bags. They realized no matter what they tried, the two marine salvage specialists weren't coming out of the toppled casino entryway alive.

"They were deep inside the overturned barge," Sullivan said.

And much of the dark, hurricane damaged barge was filled with water that had been sitting there since Katrina.

"Water maybe three or four feet, maybe five feet deep at the bottom. So we were having to dig through water," firefighter Matthew Faul said.

One firefighter called it the worst recovery scene he's responded to in 13 years.

"Yes, this is a really, really dangerous situation," Sullivan said.

The Texas contractor demolishing the Gulfport Grand Casino said the marine workers spent the day pumping water out of the barge. Why they climbed inside, into an area they didn't belong in, may never be answered.

"We're still trying to figure out exactly what happened," Sullivan said.

Harrah's Entertainment sold its Grand Gulfport property last week. But as part of the settlement, Harrah's is still responsible for all demolition work on the south side of Highway 90.