Barge hits a bridge in Galveston damaging the structure and causing an oil spill


GALVESTON, Texas (AP) — A barge slammed into a bridge pillar in Galveston, Texas, on Wednesday, spilling oil into surrounding waters and closing the only road to a smaller and separate island that is home to a university, officials said. There were no immediate reports of injuries, although officials said one person on the barge was knocked into the water and quickly rescued.

The bridge that leads to Pelican Island, located just north of Galveston, was hit by a barge around 9:50 a.m. when a tugboat backing out of Texas International Terminals, a fuel storage operator next to the bridge, lost control of two barges it was pushing, said David Flores, a bridge superintendent with the Galveston County Navigation District.

“The current was very bad, and the tide was high. He lost it,” Flores said.

One of the barges hit the bridge and two telephone poles, he said.

Aerial video showed portions of a rail line that runs parallel to the bridge on top of the barge. The rail line is no longer in service.

The accident Wednesday knocked one man off the vessel and into the water, but he was quickly recovered and was not injured, said Galveston County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Ray Nolen.

The tugboat was pushing bunker barges, which are fuel barges for ships, Flores said. The accident resulted in oil spilling from the barge into the bay and crews were working to clean it up, he said. The barge, which is owned by Martin Petroleum, has a 30,000-gallon capacity, but it’s not clear how much leaked into the bay, said Galveston County spokesperson Spencer Lewis. He said about 6.5 miles (10.5 kilometers) of the waterway was shut down as a result of the spill.

Engineers from the Texas Department of Transportation are also enroute to inspect the damage, and city officials said that the bridge will remain closed until it is deemed safe to use. 

The Galveston County Sheriff’s Office told KTRK that a large piece of the bridge fell. Pictures broadcast by KTRK showed pieces of concrete on the barge.

In an online statement, Texas A&M University at Galveston said: “The Pelican Island Bridge is closed to all traffic at this time due to a barge strike. Electricity has been restored and additional updates will be provided as the situation unfolds.”

One business, Baywatch Dolphin Tours, said they were seeking the university’s approval to shuttle people off the island and were planning how to provide a long-term service while bridge repairs are underway.

This is a developing story. Stay with Spectrum News 1 for updates.