AJOT Blogs


Harvey can’t keep Texas ports down

Sep 05, 2017

While estimates of total economic losses related to Hurricane Harvey are climbing to nearly $200 billion, major Texas seaports have shown their resiliency, sustaining minimal damage to port infrastructure and with most operations having resumed by a week and a half after the storm’s initial landfall.

Even in the far eastern portion of Texas, where flooding wrought havoc on rail and roadway links, the ports of Port Arthur and Beaumont never officially closed.

Ports farther southwest, such as those of Houston, Corpus Christi, Freeport and Galveston, were back to normal or near-normal operations by the Labor Day weekend.

At Port Houston, the No. 1 U.S. foreign tonnage port, International Longshoremen’s Association gangs toiled at terminals on Labor Day – traditionally an off day for union workers – with several containerships being handled at Bayport and Barbours Cut facilities.

In an announcement that Port Houston terminals would reopen for business Friday, Sept. 1, a week after Harvey made initial landfall north of Corpus Christi, Roger Guenther, Port Houston’s executive director, said, “We are restarting this economic engine again to power the region, state and nation.”

Vessel operation restrictions along the Houston Ship Channel and elsewhere in the Texas Gulf region saw incremental easing over September’s first weekend, with the resumption of ship activity actually coming ahead of initial projections in the case of some ports.

Port Corpus Christi, for example, had targeted reopening for Labor Day but was back in business on a limited basis on Thursday, Aug. 31, after a record six-day closure.

Port Corpus Christi on Aug. 31 receives its first vessel following a six-day shutdown caused by Hurricane Harvey.
Port Corpus Christi on Aug. 31 receives its first vessel following a six-day shutdown caused by Hurricane Harvey.

Also, with power restored to Corpus Christi refineries, those critical petroleum operations have been able to get back running, which takes on added significance as refineries farther to the northeast, from Houston to Beaumont and Port Arthur, remained heavily impacted by flooding. With the U.S. Coast Guard removing limitations such as draft restrictions and daylight-only transits as surveys indicated greater safety along channel areas, something closer to normality is again becoming reality at most Texas ports.

A U.S. Coast Guard photo, shot in an Aug. 31 assessment flyover, shows significant flooding in a Houston channel area.
A U.S. Coast Guard photo, shot in an Aug. 31 assessment flyover, shows significant flooding in a Houston channel area.

The Port of Galveston’s director of economic development and external affairs, Roger Quiroga, told AJOT that the first vessels coming into Galveston berths on Friday, Sept. 1, were “a great sight to see.” Galveston port damage was still being assessed while officials of the ports of Corpus Christ, Freeport and Houston all reported damage to port infrastructure as between minimal and none.

At the Port of Port Arthur, in extreme East Texas, Anthony Theriot, that port’s director of trade development, told AJOT today [Tuesday, Sept. 5], “There was no damage to our port whatsoever.”

Theriot said that, whereas flood damage is rampant throughout the Port Arthur area, the Sabine-Neches Waterway would have had to have risen by 15 feet in order to impact the port’s infrastructure.

Theriot said the Port of Port Arthur never officially closed, but the channel was closed to vessel traffic and rail and highway connections were flooded.

“We’re here to work, but we can’t,” Theriot said.

Vessel activity resumes Sept. 1 at the Port of Galveston, with arrival of cruise ships in addition to working of an auto carrier.
Vessel activity resumes Sept. 1 at the Port of Galveston, with arrival of cruise ships in addition to working of an auto carrier.

Up the Sabine River from Port Arthur, Al Matulich, dock superintendent at the Port of Beaumont, told AJOT a similar story. “The port never did close,” Matulich said. “We just got cut off. We’ve got water everywhere.”

Matulich noted the irony that, despite the prevalence of flood waters, a key concern at Beaumont was lack of running water.

A bit farther to the east, damage to Louisiana ports is minimal, according to Gary LaGrange, executive director of the Ports Association of Louisiana.

LaGrange, who led the Port of New Orleans through its recovery from 2005’s Hurricane Katrina while at the helm of that port, told AJOT in regard to Harvey, “I think Louisiana was lucky on this one.

“For the most part, there are no major issues in Louisiana,” he said. “Damage was minor in nature, for Louisiana at least.”

LaGrange said Harvey’s impact came from rains and concomitant flooding rather than winds and was limited primarily to four of the state association’s 32 member ports – those being the ports of Lake Charles, Cameron, Vinton and West Calcasieu – as well as the separate Port of Calcasieu.

Author Photo

For more than a quarter of a century, Paul Scott Abbott has been writing and shooting images for the American Journal of Transportation, applying four decades of experience as an award-winning journalist.

A graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, with a master’s magna cum laude from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Abbott has served as president of chapters of the Propeller Club of the United States, Florida Public Relations Association and Society of Professional Journalists.

Abbott honed his skills on several daily newspapers, including The Cincinnati Enquirer, The Richmond (Va.) News Leader, Albuquerque Journal and (South Florida) Sun-Sentinel, and was editor and publisher of The County Line, a weekly newspaper he founded in suburban Richmond, Va.

A native Chicagoan, he is a member of American Mensa and an ever-optimistic fan of the Chicago Cubs.

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