At least three people were injured Thursday night in a bizarre accident in which a crane on top of a ship apparently struck the underside of the Loop 610 Houston Ship Channel bridge at its highest point, about 135 feet above the water, police said.
State highway department officials weren’t certain if the bridge will be closed today, but they said motorists should plan to take another route. Also, it is uncertain whether the Ship Channel will be open today, officials said.
A compact pickup and a sport utility vehicle apparently smashed into debris, including rebar and concrete, that was thrust up from the northbound lanes at about 9:30 p.m., said Houston police Officer T.L. Burnett.
“It (the ship) caused a huge hole, enough to swallow a vehicle,” said Burnett.
One man and one woman were transported to Ben Taub Hospital but were discharged by 11 p.m., a hospital spokesman said.
Another woman, about age 29, was taken to Memorial Hermann Hospital. She was still being evaluated at 11:30 p.m., a spokesman said.
Anthony Kinshen of the Port of Houston Police Department said a crane boom on the ship Rickmers Tianjin, heading to its dock in the Ship Channel, poked a hole through the bridge.
A harbor pilot aboard the ship and tug boat crews reported the accident to the Port Authority, he added.
Kinshen said there were no injuries reported aboard the ship or tug boats.
Rosie Barrera, Port of Houston Authority spokeswoman, said she thought the Houston pilot had not made a statement about the cause of the accident Thursday night. The pilot is the person who brings the ship into port from the sea buoy about 50 miles from the Turning Basin.
“It seems that only a crane could have caused that much damage, so there is speculation that it was a crane,” Barrera said. “It would be powerful enough.”
There was damage to the ship caused by debris falling from the bridge, said Barrera.
“The Houston pilot reported they were not able to get the ship under control,” she said. “Subsequently they did and went to their destination, Dock 17.”
The northbound lanes of the bridge were closed shortly after the accident, although the southbound lanes remained open. Burnett said it was uncertain when the northbound lanes would reopen. He said it’s possible the southbound lanes might have to be closed while highway engineers inspect the bridge for safety purposes.
At 11:30 p.m., Texas Department of Transportation officials did not know the extent of damage to the bridge or how long it would remain closed, said spokeswoman Janelle Gbur.
Engineers might not be able to inspect the structure until daylight, Gbur said. Maintenance crews responded to the scene shortly after the accident to help with traffic control, she said.
“Our advice is that (motorists) plan for alternate routes, period,” Gbur said.
Port police were working Thursday night to arrange alternate gates where trucks can enter.
“Our main gate is right off the 610 bridge, so obviously northbound trucks will not be able to get in,” Barrera said. “I have not gotten an update as to whether the southbound lanes are open.
The Ship Channel was closed at 9:30 p.m., and it is unclear when it will open, said Lt. Greg DeLong of the U.S. Coast Guard.
Coast Guard investigators surveyed the channel Thursday night to make sure it is clear of debris and that it is safe for ships to pass beneath the bridge, DeLong said.
“Initially, there is no report of damage to the Ship Channel,” DeLong added.
The Army Corps of Engineers was notified about the accident.
DeLong said the vessel is a bulk freight ship equipment with a crane. Usually, when freight ships with cranes move through the channel, the crew lowers the cranes, he added.
Investigators are inspecting the ship and interviewing the crew to help determine the cause of the accident, DeLong said.
Chronicle reporters Carol Christian and Dale Lezon contributed to this story.
Category: Accident Report