Two barges sink after hitting bridges

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 27, 2005

A Mississippi Queen employee works to secure the boat as it docked at City Front this morning. (BRIAN LODEN The Vicksburg Post)

[1/27/05]Both Vicksburg bridges across the Mississippi River were struck early this morning by barges that later sank about 1 1/2 miles downriver.

It was the second time this week that the U.S. 80 bridge just north of the Interstate 20 bridge has been struck and it was the same St. Louis barge company, ARTCO, at the helm. Bridge Superintendent Herman Smith said the impact at 3:30 a.m. was also likely caused by the swift current on the river as it continues to climb.

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There were 22 barges in tow, each carrying grain, Smith said.

“Our guard said he was looking out the window and saw the sparks flying and he could hear the noise from inside the guard shack,” Smith said.

The river was at 44.3 feet this morning, 1.3 feet above flood stage. The expected crest has been moved up a day to Friday and lowered to 44.8 feet, about a foot below the early forecast.

The river crested in Greenville Wednesday at 50.5 feet, about 2 feet above flood stage there.

The higher stage brings faster-moving water, making it more challenging for tow captains to execute the bend above the bridges and align the barges for a straight shot through the bridge piers. After impact, cables lashing barges together often break, allowing them to scatter downstream. If damaged, they fill with water and sink.

As the river has swelled out of its banks this week, some Warren County roads north of the city have been closed due to flooding and some gates in the city’s floodwall have been closed.

High levels on the river were also blamed Wednesday when another ARTCO barge carrying grain slammed into the 75-year-old bridge. Railroad traffic on the tracks that run parallel to the roadbed was stopped for a few hours and engineers from HNTB of Baton Rouge were called to inspect the bridge.

The barge company will be charged for the engineers’ inspection of the span, Smith said.

Over the years, the piers have been hit uncounted times, but none of those has ever been blamed for structural damage.

Smith said that when barges hit the U.S. 80 bridge, they usually miss the I-20 bridge. Last year, the U.S. 80 bridge was struck twice by barges.