NITRO, W.Va. -- A week after taking down the St. Albans side of the Dick Henderson Memorial Bridge, West Virginia demolition crews dropped the Nitro side of the span into the Kanawha River Friday morning.
Contractors for the state Division of Highways are replacing the 1934 bridge with a new, three-lane span to be built on the existing bridge piers.
The Nitro City Council held a drawing Tuesday to decide who would press the ceremonial plunger to detonate the explosive charges on the bridge superstructure, which was rigged to explode at 10 a.m. Nitro Mayor Dave Casebolt said more than 400 local schoolchildren signed up for a chance at blowing the bridge.
Jessica Taylor, 9, a student a Nitro Elementary School and Frosty Walls, 92, a Nitro resident since 1932, were picked to do the honors. Casebolt said city officials wanted to symbolically bridge the gap between Nitro's youngest generation and what he called the "Greatest Generation," those who fought in World War II. Walls served as a bomber and fighter plane mechanic in the U.S. Army Air Corps during the conflict.
Taylor, who is mildly autistic, was excited to be picked to blow up the bridge. Family members said she's been talking about it a lot.
"I get to go BOOM!" she said before Friday's ceremony.
Walls said it was a privilege to take part in the event. But it isn't like he's never been around explosives before.
"I was in the Air Corps," he said. "We had a saying that we'd bomb Berlin until it was nothing but rubble, then we'd go back and bomb the rubble."
Spectators began to gather on Center Street in Nitro and at St. Albans' Riverside Park across the Kanawha River before 9 a.m. Unlike last week's explosion, where spectators were hundreds of yards away from the detonation, the observation area for Friday's blast was only about 25 yards from the edge of the blast zone.
City officials handed out earplugs, and spectators were urged to put them in or cover their ears when the charges went off. Highways officials said they were a little worried about having the crowd so close to the blast, but decided it would be safe enough as long as they let the crowd know the explosion would be louder than last week's.
Warning sirens went off at intervals before the detonation, and Highways officials began the 10-second countdown at 10 a.m. on the dot. Taylor and Walls pressed down on the plunger together.
Highways officials say they hope to have the new bridge between St. Albans and Nitro open by November.
Reach Rusty Marks at rustyma...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.