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Barges break loose, tug hits Mississippi River bridge

NATCHEZ — The stern of a tugboat pushing 21 barges up the Mississippi River on Sunday afternoon struck one of the bridge pylons, causing the barges to break loose from the tugboat.

A tugboat works to corral barges that broke loose Sunday evening. (Submitted photo)

A tugboat works to corral barges that broke loose Sunday evening. (Submitted photo)

Petty Officer J. Hood of the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Lower Mississippi in Memphis, said Coast Guard officials were on their way from Vicksburg early Sunday evening to investigate the accident and officials with the Mississippi Department of Transportation were en route to Natchez to inspect the bridge for damage.

Hood said personnel from Vidalia Dock and Storage helped corral the barges. Sunday night those barges were secured along the riverbank, awaiting investigators.

Courtney Aldridge and his wife, Jenna, were enjoying a walk along the Vidalia riverfront Sunday at about 6 p.m. when they heard a sound that made them look toward the river.

“It was a big ol’ boom,” Courtney Aldridge said. “He (the tugboat operator) was headed up river and had just gotten past the bridge when I heard the boom. If it hit the bridge, it was just a glancing blow, I think.”

Aldridge said a man who was riding a Segway along the Vidalia riverfront told him the bridge had been struck.

“Vidalia Dock and Storage — the Jenkins family — got right on it. They rounded them up and did a really good job. They steered them away from (the grain elevators owned by) Bunge on the river and kept them in the middle,” Aldridge said.

As of late Sunday evening, the bridges continued to be open for traffic.

Albert Smith, port captain with Vidalia Dock and Storage, said workers with that company were busy Sunday night “putting the tow back together,” which means they were connecting the 21 barges back together in their original formation to allow them to continue their journey up the Mississippi.

He said the tugboat which struck the bridge was the Lindsay Ann Erickson, which is owned by Marquette Transportation Co. of Paducah, Ky.

“We know the water is high and the currents are changing. The river should start falling soon and that will relieve some of the pressure on these captains who are fighting the currents,” Smith said.

“We actually came out in pretty good shape. We have the barges corralled and none of the docks were hit on either side of the river,” Smith said.

Vidalia Dock and Storage is a first responder to accidents on the river near Natchez.