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Coast Guard pushes back Houston Ship Channel's reopening

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Barges pushed by tow vessel rammed electric tower Sunday morning
  • 62 vessels wait to leave or enter the Houston port
  • CenterPoint Energy is cutting power lines from the tower

(CNN) -- The Houston Ship Channel -- closed after an accident left an electrical tower leaning precariously over it -- won't reopen until at least Wednesday, the U.S. Coast Guard said Tuesday.

Coast Guard officials initially had hoped to reopen the channel into the nation's second-busiest port later Tuesday, but work disconnecting the power lines has been slower than expected.

CenterPoint Energy, which owns the high voltage tower and lines, has cut and reeled in four of the 14 power lines on the tower, the Coast Guard said. Once all the lines are disconnected, CenterPoint will cut the tower's legs, and a large crane will put the tower down on the channel's banks.

CenterPoint will work throughout the night, the Coast Guard said.

The accident that pushed the tower over took place early Sunday when the Safety Quest, a towing vessel owned by AEP, pushed three barges loaded with scrap metal into the tower, which is currently being held up by one of the barges.

The accident happened the narrowest point of the ship channel, just north of the Exxon Baytown terminal, which, Coast Guard spokesman Capt. Marcus Woodring said, is the only one of five terminals still open.

The channel closure has caused a backlog of ships waiting to enter the port or leave it. As of Tuesday afternoon, the Coast Guard said, 37 ships are waiting inbound and another 25 are waiting outbound.

Woodring said the tower was undergoing maintenance at the time of the accident, and no electricity was flowing through the lines. He added that the cause of the accident is under investigation and that drug and alcohol tests had been administered to the Safety Quest's crew.