VICKSBURG, MS (WLBT) – It was a frantic day on the waters of the Mississippi River when barges struck the I-20 and Highway 80 bridges Wednesday, temporarily shutting down all west bound traffic.
The U. S. Coast Guard has halted commercial traffic on the river until further notice.
WLBT viewer Justin James captured cell phone images of the tow boat and barges colliding first into the Old River Bridge Wednesday afternoon.
Warren County authorities received the emergency call around 1:30.
Sheriff Martin Pace said the tow was pushing 30 barges when it hit both the old and new bridges.
"This is a very dangerous curve in the river because of the positioning of the river anyway, but when the river is up as you know, it's very close to flood stage right now, that just increases the hazards," Sheriff Pace said.
The U. S. Coast Guard reports that the barges were carrying grain and coal and no hazardous materials.
One hauling beans turned sideways and struck a pier on the new bridge and sank.
Another barge carrying wheat went under north of the Rainbow Casino.
Ergon Marine volunteered tow boats to assist with wrangling the scattered barges.
Vicksburg Police Chief Walter Armstrong was watching the events unfold.
"I was standing out back of the Welcome Center and the barge that was pressed up against the pillar started making a lot of noise and finally just went under water," Chief Armstrong said.
Traffic was backed up for about five and a half miles on the Mississippi side of the river.
Mississippi Department of Transportation engineers and their Louisiana counterparts inspected the bridges and reopened traffic around 4:45 p.m.
Randy Clark and his family were traveling from Oklahoma to visit relatives in Hattiesburg when he got a call about the bridge closure.
They were on I-20 in Tallulah when he contacted his daughter back home.
"I got her to Google because I figured I-10 is the only place to go or else to go back up to Greenville and she got on and Goggled the Mississippi Department of Transportation web site and it said the bridge had just opened," Clark said.
Warren County Sheriff's Patrol boats monitored the water until nightfall to prevent pleasure craft from danger and interrupting barge recovery efforts.
The last major accident on the river involving more than 20 barges occurred March 22, 2010, almost exactly a year ago.
Coast Guard Lt. Teresa Hatfield said northbound commercial traffic on the river could possibly reopen Thursday.
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