Loose barges temporarily close I-20 bridge at Miss. River

Published 4:07 pm Thursday, October 4, 2007

More than a dozen barges broke loose from a tug boat on the Mississippi River on Wednesday, temporarily shutting down Interstate 20 between Mississippi and Louisiana over concerns the bridge may have been damaged.

Officials on the scene provided conflicting information on the number of barges that were adrift in the river and whether any of them hit the interstate bridge.

The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, which is in charge of maintenance of the bridge, reopened traffic about 5 p.m. CDT after determining there was no structural damage, said spokesman Mark Lambert.

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“We couldn’t find any damage. We’re not even certain it hit the bridge,” Lambert said. “Whether it hit or not is immaterial because we couldn’t find any damage.”

Other officials had reported earlier that as many as six or seven barges hit the bridge. It was not immediately possible to clarify discrepancies in the conflicting reports.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokesman Curtis Runnels said 42 barges carrying grain broke loose and drifted down the river.

Louisiana State Police Sgt. Julie Lewis said only 14 to 16 barges had broken loose.

The bridge was closed for more than an hour in both directions while officials worked to bring the situation under control, officials in Louisiana and Mississippi said.

All but one of the barges had been contained by 4:20 p.m. CDT, said Mississippi Highway Patrol spokesman Warren Strain. That barge had already drifted south of the bridge and did not pose an immediate danger.