River tops flood stage as crest forecast backed up

Published 11:59 am Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Mississippi River at Vicksburg topped flood stage Monday night, and the crest was pushed back to Wednesday by forecasters who have added thunderstorms tonight to the mix.

Rain chances after 6 tonight are 100 percent and the rainfall could add to the expected 43.1-foot crest, said Marty Pope, National Weather Service senior hydrologist. Today’s expected crest is a tenth of a foot higher and about 12 hours later than forecasts showed for weeks.

He said tonight’s predicted rainfall “looks close to an inch and a half. There’s always the chance you could pop out another tenth of a foot.”

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Stages at Greenville were near crest this morning, keeping Wednesday morning’s high-water mark for Vicksburg “on track,” Pope said.

High river stages prompted limits on barge traffic on six river miles immediately north and south of the old U.S. 80 and Interstate 20 bridges. Efforts to cut a sunken soybean barge stuck lodged on a support pier on the highway bridge are on hold while equipment is modified to pass safely under the old bridge, just north of the I-20 bridge. The barge broke loose from a 30-barge tow Wednesday and sank after hitting the pier. It was the second barge strike to the river bridges in four days.

Eastbound traffic on the Interstate 20 bridge was reduced to one lane this morning as a survey crew began checking sensors on the bridge, said T. Marshall Hill, district engineer for the Louisiana Department of Transportation & Development’s Monroe district. A release from the agency said the restriction will be in effect through April 12. Westbound traffic is not affected. Initial checks of sensors by LDOTD after last week’s barge strike showed no apparent damage.

At Natchez this morning, two coal barges on a southbound tow sank in the river after hitting the bridge there, said Lt. Teresa Hatfield, supervisor of the Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment in Vicksburg.

No damage was reported to the bridge, which was struck around 1 a.m. by the tow owned by Indiana-based American Commercial Lines, Hatfield said. Traffic has been halted immediately north and south of the Natchez bridge until both barges are located and recovered, Hatfield said.

Southbound tows on the river near the Vicksburg bridges are limited to daylight hours and must be pushed with a 6,000 horsepower vessel. For tows pushed with 7,200 horsepower or greater, a 25-barge maximum is in place and must be guided by a master pilot with experience pushing barges around the river bridges in high water.

Northbound tows are limited to nighttime hours and must maintain at least 3 mph at the bridges. The number of barges on northbound tows is not limited. An information center was established over the weekend at Ergon Marine and Industrial Supply to assist and handle inquiries with river traffic.

Five large tows headed south remain on hold until they are broken into smaller groupings, said Lt. j.g. Ryan Gomez, a spokesman for the Coast Guard assigned to Vicksburg. Seven northbound tows were allowed to transit overnight, Gomez said.

Drain valves at three locations along Vicksburg’s floodwall remain closed. No additional closures were planned unless the river’s forecast changed. Chickasaw, Long Lake, Laney Camp and Ziegler roads remain closed due to high water.

Levels on the river side of the Steele Bayou Water Control Structure on Mississippi 465 stood at 90.8 feet, up a tenth of a foot. The land side held at 85.4 feet overnight. The structure was holding out 5.4 feet of water from farmland this morning.

Crests are forecast for Wednesday on the land side near 86 feet and 91 feet on the river side.

Eagle Lake was at 76.7 feet this morning, up a tenth of a foot. The Muddy Bayou Control Structure is open and is expected to bring the lake’s stage up to 76.9 feet over several days.