Auto parts deliveries to manufacturers and suppliers have been delayed at the Laredo, Texas, port of entry after heavy storms and flash floods Sunday caused power outages and structural damage to customs operations on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border.
Cargo operations at the World Trade Bridge, which carries the most commercial vehicles of any port of entry on the southern border, remained suspended on Tuesday. Authorities have diverted trucks to the Colombia-Solidarity Bridge, 19 miles to the west, and are assessing damage to determine when business can resume in downtown Laredo.
"We do not expect to be operating at the World Trade Bridge until early next week, in part, because the Mexican customs facility suffered equal, or greater damage, as well," Bradd Skinner, the assistant director for trade in the Laredo regional field office, told Automotive News.
Auto parts are the top goods that ship through Laredo, according to the Laredo Development Foundation. The Laredo Customs district, which stretches from Brownsville to Del Rio, Texas, leads the nation in exports of vehicle parts -- with the bulk of the freight moving through Laredo. During the first quarter, motor vehicle imports and exports through Laredo totaled $8.1 billion, according to a WorldCity analysis of U.S. Census data.
The storms ripped off air conditioning units, and much of the roof at CBP's cargo processing facility, resulting in water damage to offices, the electrical system and computers. The clean-up also involves debris strewn around the cargo lot, overturned tractors, displaced equipment, water leakage in primary inspection booths and torn perimeter fencing, Skinner said.
Power was restored about noon on Tuesday local time, he added.
Customs has increased the number of processing lanes to eight at the Colombia-Solidarity Bridge, extended operating hours from 7 a.m. until midnight, and authorized overtime for officers, to minimize delays, the CBP official said.
The additional volume forced truckers Monday to wait four to five hours in a line that stretched up to seven miles, customs brokers in the area said.
Officers worked until 2:30 a.m. to get the last truck cleared last night, Skinner said.
Some business leaders have asked for one lane to remain open 24 hours, but Skinner said such a response is unnecessary.
"Both customs administrations are prepared to stay as long as it takes to process the last truck [each day], but we can't just say we're going to go 24/7 because if there is no truck traffic, that is not good use of our resources," the former manager of the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism program said.
The Colombia-Solidarity Bridge connects to the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon, which has experienced high levels of drug cartel violence. Truck drivers are not inclined to be on the road in the early morning hours, Skinner added.
CBP hopes to relieve stress at the Colombia Bridge in the next day or two by opening the World Trade Bridge to trucks with empty trailers, which do not require the same level of intense inspections for security or contraband smuggling, he said.
The World Trade Bridge, on average, handles about 11,000 to 12,000 trucks per day compared to about 1,200 at the Colombia Bridge. The main bridge is more convenient for shippers because most warehouses are in the downtown area.
Laredo is also a major crossing point for finished vehicles made in Mexico, but most of them move by rail over a separate span. Rail traffic has been unaffected by the storms.
Logistics companies in the area are also implementing contingency plans. Phone service was disrupted at the Laredo office of Scarbrough International, a third-party logistics provider that has automotive customers. The company said in a a client e-mail that calls are being routed to its Kansas City headquarters.