Sunken barge forces closure of river at St. Louis

Thursday, May 31, 2007

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- A breakaway barge sunk Thursday morning in the Mississippi river in St. Louis, closing a six-mile stretch of the waterway.

The barge was one of 15 barges that broke loose around 5 a.m. while being towed by Ingram Barge Co. of Nashville, said Coast Guard Lt. Christian Barger.

The barge, which was loaded with corn, struck the McKinley Bridge in northern St. Louis and sank. Parts of the barge remain exposed above the waterline, making the channel too dangerous to navigate, Barger said.

A Coast Guard team was working closely with Ingram to remove the barge, and Barger said he couldn't speculate how long the recovery might take. At 9 a.m. Thursday, only one other vessel was waiting to pass through the area, he said.

Investigators don't believe the bridge was damaged. It has been closed for repairs since 2001.

"Certainly these bridges, especially in the downtown area, are built pretty sturdy and have withstood strikes from barges before," Barger said.

Barger said an Ingram tow boat was upriver from the McKinley bridge this morning when a coupling that held the barges broke, and they all began to float downstream. Investigators will determine what caused the coupling to fail, he said.

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