The Associated Press
Wednesday, March 23, 2011; 10:05 PM
VICKSBURG, Miss. -- A section of the flood-swollen Mississippi River was closed Wednesday after several loaded barges broke loose from a tow and struck a bridge, causing one of them to sink, authorities said.
Interstate 20, a major highway linking Mississippi to Louisiana, was shut down for a time until officials determined the struck bridge was not significantly damaged.
Lt. Teresa Hatfield, supervisor of the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety office at Vicksburg, said there were about 30 barges in tow when the KA Eckstein alighted with a railroad bridge over the river at Vicksburg.
Sixteen barges got loose. One was still pinned against the I-20 bridge pier and one sank, but neither was in the navigation channel, she said.
Earlier reports that the pinned barge had been removed and that none of the loose barges sank were incorrect, she said.
"It's still wedged up in there, basically vertical against the bridge pier and probably can't be seen," Hatfield said.
Hatfield said that stretch of the river has a significant bend and is very tough to navigate even under normal conditions.
"It gets more difficult when there's significant high water," she said.
Hatfield said the barges were carrying dry cargo - either grain, beans or corn, so there's no concern about pollution from the sunken barge.
"It's just feeding the fish," she said.
She said the river remains closed to traffic both directions until investigators can fully assess the situation. Northbound traffic was already under a daylight-only restriction, she noted.
No injuries were reported.
Traffic on the I-20 bridge was routed around the bridge shortly after the 2:30 p.m. crash. The bridge was reopened about three hours later after Louisiana transportation officials inspected it.