The Penobscot Narrows Bridge had to be shut down Sunday morning after large chunks of ice fell several hundred feet down onto passing vehicles, authorities said.
Five vehicles were damaged, including two that were destroyed, but no injuries were reported, according to the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office.
The Route 1 bridge won’t reopen until state traffic engineers determine that it is safe for motorists to drive over the giant structure, which spans the Penobscot River near Bucksport.
A state transportation official said Sunday that the bridge will be reassessed at “first light” Monday.
The two-lane bridge connects Verona Island with the Waldo County town of Prospect. It was shut down about 10:15 a.m. Sunday after melting ice fell onto vehicles from the bridge’s overhead beams and suspension cables.
Hancock County sent two sheriff’s deputies to inspect the two-lane bridge Sunday morning after receiving complaints that ice was falling onto cars.
The deputies then told the Maine Department of Transportation, which is responsible for maintaining the bridge, that it should be closed.
A reporter for WLBZ-TV in Bangor described the falling ice as being “basketball size” and the sound it made on impact as being like a clap of thunder. The height of the bridge is 447 feet.
Ted Talbot, a spokesman for the MDOT, said state crews will reassess the situation Monday morning. Talbot said changes in the weather on Sunday caused the ice chunks to fall.
Ice formed on the bridge’s suspension cables during the ice storm that has plagued the region for several days but on Sunday temperatures rose and caused some ice to melt, Talbot said.
“We believe about 70 percent of the ice fell off the bridge’s piers and cables,” Talbot said Sunday night. “That’s good, but what we are not comfortable with is reopening the bridge and having more ice get rattled off the bridge and having it fall on someone.”
Talbot said it is too dangerous to send crews up to remove the ice.
Chris Bednar, who lives on Verona Island, took photographs of the damage caused by the falling ice.
One photo shows a couple’s Ford Escape, a sport utility vehicle, in the parking lot of the nearby Fort View Variety store.
The vehicle’s front and rear windshields were shattered and its roof crushed by the impact, Bednar said. Two people, a man and woman, were inside the vehicle but were not injured.
“When he pulled into the convenience store, he was driving with his head out the window,” Bednar said. “That car is probably totaled.”
Talbot said the state has never before had to close the bridge, which opened seven years ago, on Dec. 30, 2006.
The span, which replaced the 75-year-old Waldo-Hancock Bridge, also houses the Penobscot Narrows Observatory, the tallest public bridge observatory in the world.
The Penobscot Narrows Bridge is located within a few hundred feet of the Fort Knox State Historic Site.
Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: