Runaway Barges Shut Down Bridge

Monday, April 14th 2008, 11:11 pm
By: News On 6

Scary moments in Muskogee as runaway barges strike a busy highway bridge. Somehow a barge snapped loose from where it was docked at the Port of Muskogee on Monday night and caused a domino effect with up to 10 barges breaking free. News On 6's Steve Berg reports it has shades of past tragedies.

Towboats worked to push a 150 ton barge away from a threatening position against a bridge support. Now it's secured again at the Port of Muskogee with what's called a Lock-Line.

"Why it failed, we have no idea. We may never know that answer," said Steve Taylor with Johnston's Enterprises.

Port Worker Steve Taylor says he has never seen anything quite like this. The Lock-Line is two-feet thick, made with tough synthetic material, and connected in four places.

"It was a reasonably new line, in good shape. We inspect all our lines. When they get a little frayed, we throw them away. And so it was a good line. It was a four-part line. And it should have held. There shouldn't have been any question about it holding," said Taylor.

But, the one bad line is all it took.

"And that line broke, which caused those set of barges to top around, and then it was a chain reaction," said Taylor.

It has an all-too familiar feel to Memorial Day Weekend in 2002, just a few miles downstream, where a towboat pushed a barge into the I-40 Bridge near Webber's Falls. The bridge collapsed and 14 people were killed when their vehicles plunged into the river. Thankfully, the similarities stopped short.

"As bad a situation as it could have been, there appears to be limited damage other than everybody spending a night worrying," said Scott Robinson with the Muskogee Port Authority.

Officials feel sure there was no deliberate vandalism. The river is flowing much higher and faster than normal, which could put more stress on the line, but it's only a theory.

"Maybe it was a weak line to begin with. Maybe it got pinched for some reason. It's just, that's something we may never know," said Taylor.

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