Chlorine barge incident should serve as a reminder

Published 12:14 am Sunday, October 14, 2012

How often do you look at the barges passing on the Mississippi River and wonder what, exactly, they are carrying?

Probably not that often, right?

But in the months and years after October 1962, Miss-Lou residents were much more on edge.

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The sinking of a barge carrying 1,100 tons of poisonous chlorine in 1961 led to a panic in 1962 when President Kennedy ordered that the sunken chlorine tanks be lifted.

Officials admitted that if the tanks sprang a leak, everyone in Natchez and Vidalia would be in danger.

The National Guard was brought in. Gas masks were distributed. The waiting began.

Residents had to wait nearly a month before taking a worry-free, chlorine-free breath of fresh air.

Those living in the area at the time recall that some families simply moved away from the area to avoid dealing with the day-to-day fear.

The incident had a major effect on the psyche of the community, even though no actual tragedy ever occurred.

Today, the river is mostly a thing of beauty and pride for our community. We love the sunsets, the bridge and the potential for economic development it brings.

In Natchez — where last year’s flood was largely a non-factor — we don’t fear the river at all.

Officials say that’s fine. The chances of an actual disaster from a passing barge that would affect local residents are slim to none. If something happens, emergency plans are in place.

We appreciate the planning done by our emergency officials, and we hope they are right about the chances for disaster.

But looking back 50 years, perhaps the Mighty Mississippi and her vessels deserve a bit more fearful respect on a daily basis.