THE MANCHAC BRIDGE DISASTER

The old US 51 Bridge over Pass Manchac on the Manchac Greenway soars over a historically important waterway that's seen generations of Native Americans and the pageant of Louisiana's European and American past. This is inspiring as you take in the grand view from atop the bridge but look down to the murky water below and brood over the bridge's darkest moment. Imagine the horror that rocked the community when the Manchac Bridge Disaster suddenly, unexpectedly and dramatically took place late in the afternoon September 13, 1974.

An impaired tugboat operator missed the channel under the bridge and accidentally shoved his barge into the legs that supported the structure. The impact knocked down a couple of bridge road sections onto the barge and into the water below. Unfortunately, in a nightmare most of us can’t truly conceive, much less ever be prepared for, unsuspecting drivers found the road they had been confidently pounding along was no longer there. The empty gap near the crown of the bridge must have been difficult to see while ascending the bridge and at least three vehicles fell into the void. Only two survivors were found and it was never known for sure if other vehicles fell into the swift tidal currents of the deep Pass to disappear forever. Additionally, a vital regional transportation link was severed for months.The different colors seen today on the bridge’s replacement concrete and girders help tell the story. 

Former Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s deputy Wayne Norwood gives details of this shocking event in a harrowing first person account on the Facebook page for the Louisiana Treasures Museum and on the pages of the Hammond Daily Star. He recounts his experience diving with Scuba gear immediately after the accident to search for possible survivors and victims in the confusing and dangerous twisted concrete and metal heart of this disaster. It is testimony to the selfless heroism a first responder must make at a moment’s notice and an eerie, chilling and valuable account.

Photo credit Wayne Norwood.

The precarious situation of rescuers on the Manchac Bridge.

Photo credit Wayne Norwood / Hammond Daily Star