Barges hit bridge, then casino boat

Published 12:50 am Tuesday, April 29, 2008

NATCHEZ — On Monday night a fleet of loose barges sent local first responders scurrying up and down the Mississippi River searching for damage and renegade barges.

Adams County Civil Defense Director Stan Owens said he had been informed at least 24 barges had gotten loose. At least one of the barges hit the Mississippi River Bridge on the northern most pylon of the Adams County side of the river.

Another barge struck the Grand Soleil Casino, still under construction at the Natchez-Adams Port.

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Initially a barge was believed to have punctured the hull of the casino boat allowing water to flow in.

Owens said a third barge was believed to have hit a docked barge belonging to a cement company next to the port.

Owens said that barge was being secured to prevent it from breaking loose and striking the casino, docked only a few hundred yards away.

Coast Guardsmen and local law enforcement descended on the port in an effort to find and stop the possible leak on the casino.

Owens said the casino did have some water inside but he said no one could be sure if it was the result of the barge’s strike.

“Right now we’re not sure,” he said.

But Owens said his biggest concern was the safety of the bridge.

“That takes priority,” he said.

While the bridge was not closed to traffic, Owens said the Coast Guard and officials from the Mississippi Department of Transportation were on their way to do an inspection of the bridge at approximately 10:50 p.m.

However MDOT’s Executive Director Larry L. “Butch” Brown said the bridge is built to withstand hits from loose barges and Monday’s hit should not be reason for alarm.

“It’s part of the bridge’s design,” he said.

Brown said an inspection after any strike is part of MDOT’s standard procedure.

Brown said the greatest concern from the loose barges comes from the damage they can do after they hit the bridge and continue down river.

But how much damage has been done to the casino, or anything else is still unknown.