Corpus Christi pipeline explodes, USCG searching for missing crew members

A barge that struck a pipeline prompting an explosion Friday in Corpus Christi left several people with burns and prompted first responders to close nearby roads as they battled the blaze.

Emergency crews blocked several roads near Lantana Street and Up River Road after being called to the scene that sent six people to hospitals. Friday afternoon, the Coast Guard was still searching for four missing people. 

Smoke and flames are seen from a major fire near Lantana and Up River road in Corpus Christi, Texas on Aug. 21, 2020.

Eighteen people were working in the area.

In a news release, the Coast Guard said it was searching for four missing crewmembers from dredging vessel “Waymon L. Boyd.”

A Coast Guard Sector/Air Station Corpus Christi MH-65 Dolphin helicopter was launched and hoisted two injured crewmembers. The crewmembers were taken to Corpus Christi Medical Center-Bay Area, the release states. 

During the news conference, U.S. Coast Guard Sector/Air Station Corpus Christi Sector Commander Captain Edward Gaynor said 6,000 gallons of diesel was spilled. Efforts were underway to clean up the spill.

“The U.S. Coast Guard issued a safety zone in the Corpus Christi Ship Channel Inner Harbor, from the Inner Harbor Bridge (U.S. Hwy 181) to the Viola Turning Basin,” the statement reads. “No vessel may enter the safety zone without permission from the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Coast Guard boat crews and Port of Corpus Christi Police and Fire departments are conducting the search and responding to the fire, the release states. 

Port of Corpus Christi CEO Sean Strawbridge said the dredging vessel was not part of the Corpus Christi ship channel improvement project. He said the vessel was doing work for one of the port’s customers.  

The vessel was from the Orion Marine Group, out of Port Lavaca. Officials with Orion said most of the workers reside in that area. 

“Make no mistake, there is people that are injured. There are people that are missing,” Strawbridge said during a news conference Friday afternoon. “So I just, first and foremost, want to express our thoughts and prayers to the injured and the missing, as well as their families as we continue the ongoing search and rescue operations.”

Emergency crews aided eight people. Six were taken to area hospitals, four by CCFD and two by the Coast Guard. Two others refused treatment, Rocha said.

Corpus Christi City Councilman Ben Molina said four people were taken to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio and two are at Christus Spohn Hospital Shoreline. By Friday afternoon a fifth patient was taken to San Antonio, Strawbridge said. 

“I am working with port leadership to ensure the Port has access to all County, State, and Federal (assistance) needed to respond to this emergency, and I have directed that all county assets be made available to respond,” Nueces County judge Barbara Canales said in a statement.

Smoke and flames are seen at the International Grain Port Terminal, Friday, Aug. 21, 2020, in Corpus Christi, Texas. A barge struck a pipeline prompting an explosion that left several people with burns.

Governor Greg Abbott issued a statement saying state officials were already working with local counterparts in Corpus Christi along with the Coast Guard to assist with emergency response and called on Texans to pray for first responders.

Smoke and flames are seen from a major fire near Lantana and Up River road in Corpus Christi, Texas on Aug. 21, 2020.

“Texas Division of Emergency Management and Texas Department of Public Safety personnel are on the ground to provide support, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is monitoring air quality in the area,” the statement reads. “The state stands ready to provide any additional personnel and resources needed to address this event and keep Texans in the area safe.”

The investigation is being led by the National Transportation Safety Board. The Port of Corpus Christi will also conduct an investigation, Strawbridge said. 

In a tweet, TCEQ said it was aware of the explosion, and agency staff was responding.

The agency and contractors are conducting off-site air monitoring in the surrounding area and have not noted any levels of concern, the agency said in a statement. 

TCEQ’s Rapid Response Survey Van has been mobilized to support air monitoring. The van can continuously take air samples while driving and report data to the monitoring team, the statement reads.