Rising Miss. River waters tricky for deluge of barges headed downstream

Published 4:07 pm Friday, April 11, 2008

Flooding on the Mississippi River may not have had much of an impact on land, but U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Teresa Hatfield said it’s a “tricky situation” for those who work on the nation’s busiest waterway.

She said high water has caused four “bridge-a-llisions” between barges and the U.S. 80 bridge in Vicksburg. So far two loaded barges have sunk beneath the river’s roiling waters, forcing officials to put the Waterways Action Plan into effect.

The plan calls for restrictions in certain problem areas.

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Hatfield, stationed at the Coast Guard’s Vicksburg office, said southbound barges in the Vicksburg area have been restricted from traveling at night and tow restrictions have been put into place to ensure tugboats have enough juice to control their barge fleets in the swift water.

Tugs must have motors capable of producing 280 horsepower per barge to be able pass through Vicksburg.

The same restrictions don’t apply in other areas.

The river continued to rise slowly Thursday with a storm system expected to add more rain into the waterlogged Mississippi Delta drainage system overnight.

The Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center in Slidell, La., calls for most river points in Mississippi to reach their crest between April 17-21, though estimates have been revised up and back several times.

Greenville is expected to crest at 57.5 feet above gauge zero and Natchez is expected to reach 56.5. While lowland areas are under a few feet of water and some people have evacuated their homes, flooding is not considered significant.

In fact, for some, it’s a tourist attraction.

“We came to see the river,” said Nancy Ray of Longview, Texas, who along with her husband, Eddie, is staying at the Riverview RV Park in Vidalia, La., where the water has crept above the riverbank and almost into the campground.

Eddie Ray said one of his interests is the Mississippi’s flood basin and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ flood control structures.

The couple was sitting in lawn chairs near the waterline in the RV park Wednesday, reading and gauging how far the water has come since their arrival.

“The water has definitely come up since yesterday,” Eddie Ray said. “There were places you could walk yesterday that you can’t now.”