Dozens Of Barges Break Loose On Ohio River In Pittsburgh

Officials scrambled to close bridges over the Ohio River on Friday after more than two dozen barges broke free and raced down the waterway. Authorities are uncertain of exactly how 26 massive barges were released and became threats to the area’s infrastructure.

Twenty-three of the barges contained tons of coal and other materials while three others were empty.

One bridge along with dams and marinas were struck by the unguided containers. NBC News reported several docks were extensively damaged by the vessels, and onlookers captured video images of the destruction wrought by the barges.

At least two bridges situated 2.5 miles apart were closed to traffic by local authorities as the runaway barges barreled down the river. Video taken by local residents showed several barges stopped by the Coast Guard near Pittsburgh’s Brunot Island Bridge.

Campbell Transportation Company took responsibility for the release of the 26 barges.

In a statement to KDKA-TV, the company said it was “actively responding to a recent development involving a multi-barge breakaway in Pittsburgh.” It said public safety was its priority and that only one vessel was still unaccounted for.

NBC News later reported that all of the barges were recovered except for one that is believed to have sunk.

Pittsburgh officials reported that 11 of the breakaway barges were corralled at a riverbank near Brunot Island. A tugboat held the vessels in place for recovery.

Nine other barges were halted at Emsworth Dam, while six others managed to float by the structure. Five were found and the sixth is thought to be at the bottom of the Ohio River.

The bridges that were closed due to what authorities termed an “abundance of caution” have since reopened.

While no specific cause for the barges breaking loose was immediately determined, Campbell officials cited weather conditions as spawning the incident. Their statement said it began “under high water conditions on the rivers resulting in strong currents due to flooding in the area.”

An inspection of the bridges found no damage sustained. Rail traffic on another bridge was also halted for a time as the barges were recovered.