More river restrictions possible as another tow slams bridge|[04/07/08]

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 7, 2008

More restrictions for traffic on the Mississippi River at Vicksburg might be ordered today after a fourth tow hit the U.S. 80 bridge Sunday, broke apart and sent half its barges careening downstream and seriously imperiled the crew.

“It was a close call,” said Albert Smith, fleet manager for Ergon Marine, which has been rounding up free-floating barges. “My guy called me and said they were fixing to start getting people off the boat, but it was able to get turned around and saved.”

The bow of the towboat, the MV Cindy Celeste, apparently plunged after the impact and started taking on water. Once facing the current, pumps were able to remove water from the hull.

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Today’s 7 a.m. reading of the gauge at Vicksburg was 48.1 feet, up 0.4 feet from Sunday, with the National Weather Service River Forecasting Center still sticking by its prediction that the river will rise 0.9 more feet and crest at 49 feet on Sunday.

Barge traffic restrictions have been in place for more than a week, both on the number of barges that can be cabled together for southbound trips and on the times loads may pass under bridges in Vicksburg, Greenville and Memphis.

Lt. Teresa Hatfield, U.S. Coast Guard supervisor of the marine safety detachment in Vicksburg, said no tow may pass the bridges after nightfall, and a towboat must have a minimum of 280 horsepower for each barge being pushed.

Hatfield said more restrictions could become effective today. She said she will be having a conference call with her superior officers in Memphis and river commerce industry leaders to determine if more restrictions need to be imposed. Swirling and cross currents have now sent four tows into bridge pilings in 12 days. Another tow broke up about 15 miles upstream. No injuries have been reported, but three barges have sunk.

The MV Cindy Celeste was pushing 19 barges at about 2:30 p.m. when it literally was pulled into Pier 3 of the bridge by a quick current, said Bridge Superintendent Herman Smith.

“The current was shoving him so hard there was no way the poor guy could get away from it,” said Smith, who watched the accident on video. Two cameras mounted on the bridge recorded the accident.

Some barges were loaded with corn and others with steel.

Albert Smith of Ergon reinforced the dangers. “We haven’t totally wrapped up the first barge accident, so that gives you an idea of what we’re facing,” he said. “The current is so fast right now, we just can’t get to some barges we have tied off to trees down river.”

In another crisis area, water continues to rise on farmland inside the levees built to protect the Mississippi Delta, the consequence of heavy rains Friday and Saturday. Gates at the Steele Bayou Control Structure are protecting the forests and cropland of the flat region from as much as 8 feet of water, but water ponding inside measured an additional 0.4 feet deeper today than Sunday. By elevations, today’s land side reading was 89.4 feet and the river side reading was 97 feet, up 0.5 feet. The gates can’t be opened, allowing the sump area to drain until the river side level falls below the land side level.

Ford subdivision north of Vicksburg continued to take on water over the weekend. Several streets are already under water, which has forced many residents to evacuate. As of this morning, 13 people were taking refuge in the Red Cross temporary shelter set up at Calvary Baptist Church at Warriors Trail and Old Highway 27.

South of Vicksburg, at least one residence on LeTourneau Road was taking on water. The Cedars School area is expected to be in jeopardy of flooding, as are Hall Road, Warrenton Lane, Mop Lane, Central Drive, Short Street, Cedars Street, Magnolia Road, Mattingly Road and Rifle Range Road. Also, lower roads in the Hamilton Heights area, Marion Park, Cairo Drive, Stout Street, Avenue E, Valley Street, Polk Street, Togo Street, Baker Street, Roosevelt Street and Olive Street are likely to flood.

Mississippi 465 remains closed, with traffic to and from Eagle Lake using the tops of levees.

Mississippi RiverCREST FORECAST49 feet on SundayTODAY’S STAGE:48.1 feetROSE:0.4 footFLOOD STAGE:43 feet