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Seabee-Marine Bridges Link Towns, Nations

By Staff Sgt. Troth, Spc. Ausburn, Cpl. Decker
Special to American Forces Press Service

SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras, Jan. 6, 1999 – Commerce, trade and much needed supplies are once again flowing throughout the hurricane-ravaged countryside here thanks to the long, hard efforts of U.S. Navy and Marine Corps bridge builders.

Marine Corps engineers and Seabees of Naval Construction Battalion 7 assigned to Joint Task Force-Bravo completed a culvert bridge between the towns of Talanga and San Juan de Flores on Jan. 3.

"This bridge is a main thoroughfare," said Francisco Reyes, a principal landowner and former mayor of San Juan de Flores, during the Jan. 3 ribbon-cutting ceremony. "It allows the people of this area to conduct business and to be able to sell the crops that are grown here. Without this bridge, these people have no way to get their produce to market. You (the engineers) have provided us with a way to sustain our livelihoods, and we thank you."

The engineers worked nonstop in 12-hour shifts over eight days to complete the 70-meter culvert bridge across the Rio del Hombre. The bridge was built by packing a 15-foot-wide path of dirt and rocks between and atop a row of large concrete tubes (culverts) set in the river.

The Seabees had used the same techniques and a round-the- clock six-day work schedule to complete a 75-meter temporary culvert span across the Rio Hondo, north of the capital, Tegucigalpa, just before Christmas. At the same time, 53 Marines from 8th Engineer Support Battalion and supporting units from Camp Lejeune, N.C., finished a 50- meter bridge at Ojo de Agua and then immediately moved on to bridges in downtown Tegucigalpa, the Rio Congrejal and others.

The American engineers' calendars have been similarly crowded since they arrived in Honduras after Hurricane Mitch hit in early November. The completion of every bridge has been followed by public fanfare.

"What you have done is make an extremely important connection between the people of the north and those in Tegucigalpa," said Tomas Lozano Reyes, Honduran public transportation minister, at the Rio Hondo ceremony. "The northern areas supply the basic food, the basic grain, to the capital so that its nearly 1 million people can eat. That is what you have provided.

"The United States, through you, is showing the friendship that it has demonstrated before in tough times and is demonstrating so much now."

The Talanga-San Juan de Flores bridge is the Seabee unit's last. Among the first Americans deployed, the Navy builders are scheduled to return to the United States later in January. They'll be replaced by new units taking part in an operation called New Horizons '99.

"We have had a really good time down here and are glad that we've been able to help the people of this country piece their lives back together," said Seabee equipment operator Edgard Santiago. "It makes you feel good to know that you have helped these people out of the devastation that was left in the wake of Hurricane Mitch."

[Compiled from dispatches by Staff Sgt. Jeff Troth and Spc. Jeremy Ausburn of the 49th Public Affairs Detachment (Airborne), Fort Bragg, N.C., and Cpl. Chet Decker of Marine Forces Honduras. The three are assigned to the U.S. military relief effort in Honduras.]

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSeabees on a dump truck fling sacks of concrete that will help reinforce a culvert bridge they're building on a river between San Juan de Flores and Talanga, Honduras. The bridge was completed Jan. 3 after eight days of nonstop construction work. Spc. Jeremy Ausburn, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSeabees of U.S. Naval Mobil Construction Battalion 7 and children from San Juan de Flores, Honduras, spread concrete on top of a culvert bridge linking the town with its cross-river neighbor, Talanga. Spc. Jeremy Ausburn, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMarine Lance Cpl. Joseph Oliver works on the bridge at Ojo de Agua in Honduras. The new span, completed during the Christmas holiday season, replaced a concrete bridge in the background. Hurricane Mitch caused floods that swept away several 100-ton support columns of the old bridge, collapsing it. Cpl. Chet Decker, USMC  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSeabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 7 inspect their culvert bridge across the Rio Hondo in Honduras. The remains of the old bridge loom next to it, remnants of the flood that destroyed it are still lodged between the pylon and roadway. Staff Sgt. Jeff Troth, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageHonduran Public Transportation Minister Tomas Lozano Reyez (center) and U.S. Ambassador to Honduras James Creagen dedicate a Seabee-built culvert bridge across the Rio Hondo. Staff Sgt. Jeff Troth, USA  
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