›› Galve­ston port clo­sure backs up cargo ships; cruises still in limbo.

Hur­ri­cane holds about 20,000 pas­sen­gers from port of Galve­ston

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - By Keri Blakinger

As many as a half-dozen com­mer­cial cargo ships have joined four cruise ships stuck at sea wait­ing for the green light to dock at the Port of Galve­ston.

About 20,000 cruise ship pas­sen­gers are idling off­shore along with com­mer­cial ships that in­clude roll-on/roll-off car­ri­ers, two grain ships and a few bulk car­ri­ers, said in­terim port di­rec­tor Peter Si­mons.

“The four cruise ships — two of which were due (Satur­day) — those are ev­ery­one’s high­est pri­or­ity,” he said.

Of­fi­cials shut down the port Fri­day, leav­ing thou­sands of va­ca­tion­ers with no place to land as Hur­ri­cane Har­vey loomed at sea.

The storm also forced the U.S. Coast Guard to close mul­ti­ple ports along the Texas Gulf Coast, in­clud­ing those at Hous­ton, Galve­ston, Texas City, Freeport and Cor­pus Christi.

On Satur­day morn­ing, the Port of Brownsville re­opened, while port per­son­nel started as­sess­ing the dam­age in Cor­pus Christi.

Galve­ston port of­fi­cials said Fri­day that the cruise ships might not be able to dock un­til Tues­day or Wed­nes­day, but Si­mons said Satur­day af­ter­noon that he was “a lit­tle more op­ti­mistic.”

Two of the ships in limbo — Car­ni­val Free­dom and Car­ni­val Valor — were set to dock Satur­day and will stop in New Or­leans in­stead, ac­cord­ing to Car­ni­val spokes­woman Chris­tine de la Huerta.

“Guests who wish to ter­mi­nate their cruise at that point and dis­em­bark in New Or­leans may do so,” de la Huerta said in state­ment. “We are strongly en­cour­ag­ing them to re­main on board as we in­tend to re­turn the ships to Galve­ston as soon as fea­si­ble.”

The Car­ni­val Breeze spent the night in Mex­ico and was slated to leave

Satur­day for Galve­ston, al­though the com­pany did not of­fer an up­date on progress Satur­day af­ter­noon.

Vanessa Gur­rusqui­eta of Itasca, near Fort Worth, said she and her fam­ily of eight were among those stuck on the Car­ni­val Breeze. But she said she wasn’t wor­ried about the de­tour.

“This is an ex­tra day in paradise,” she said.

And even in the wake of the hur­ri­cane, it was mostly smooth sail­ing.

“It’s pretty calm,” she said. “A lit­tle rock­ing but not much.”

Royal Caribbean’s Lib­erty of the Seas stayed be­hind the storm with plans to re­turn to port Sun­day, of­fi­cials said.

“We’re work­ing with the Coast Guard and the pi­lots and the cruise line to try to min­i­mize the im­pact of the storm on the cruise ships,” Si­mons said. “We’re all re­ally kind of sub­ject at the end of the day to the mercy of the weather.”

Overnight winds and rain pounded the is­land into Satur­day morn­ing, spark­ing a string of tor­nado and flash flood warn­ings and leav­ing thou­sands with­out elec­tric­ity.

Un­con­firmed re­ports of tor­nado touch­downs flooded into the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice. Near Broad­way and Sea­wall, wind ripped the golden arches off a McDon­ald’s sign. Across the street, gusts pushed over a stop sign and tore down a bill­board.

“That used to say Whataburger up there,” said long­time is­land res­i­dent Col­burt But­ler. “It says no burger now.”

But an af­ter­noon respite brought calmer skies, and is­landers flocked back to the the beach, walk­ing dogs and jog­ging.

Al­though the first rounds of storms left the is­land res­i­dents unim­pressed, fore­cast­ers warned to ex­pect more bad weather overnight.

City of­fi­cials said Satur­day that pro­longed flood­ing could cause prob­lems get­ting sup­plies to the is­land, but city man­ager Brian Maxwell ex­pressed con­fi­dence about the present sit­u­a­tion.

“We’re hold­ing our own on the is­land,” he said. “We’re good.”

Yi-Chin Lee pho­tos / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

Bar­bara Joshua was one of the three guests who took shel­ter at the Amer­i­can Red Cross in Galve­ston as of Satur­day af­ter­noon.

A strong gust of wind brought down the arch from a McDon­ald’s sign at the in­ter­sec­tion of Broad­way Av­enue and Sea­wall Boule­vard in Galve­ston.

Yi-Chin Lee pho­tos / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

The high-traf­fic cruise ter­mi­nals at the Port of Galve­ston are closed un­til fur­ther no­tice, leav­ing thou­sands of pas­sen­gers on four cruise ships stuck in the Gulf of Mex­ico. The storm forced the U.S. Coast Guard to close ports in Hous­ton, Freeport and Cor­pus Christi.

Hur­ri­cane Har­vey brought heavy rain and strong winds to Galve­ston on Satur­day, de­stroy­ing the roof of a Citgo gas sta­tion. The danger­ous con­di­tions are keep­ing cruise ships and cargo ships from the is­land un­til fur­ther no­tice.

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