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26 barges break loose in Pittsburgh, causing damage and closing bridge

Twenty-three of the barges were carrying dry cargo, mostly coal, and at least one was loaded with fertilizer.
McKees Rocks Bridge across the Ohio River in Pittsburgh.
Posted at 2:26 PM, Apr 13, 2024

A large group of river barges broke loose and floated down the Ohio River in Pittsburgh, damaging a marina and prompting at least one bridge closure before the boats were pinned to the riverbank or went over a dam downstream, officials said.

Pittsburgh police, fire and emergency medical services responded around 11:25 p.m. Friday to reports of the barges "floating uncontrolled" down the river, Pittsburgh Public Safety said in a statement. The area had been hit by flooding after heavy rains Thursday.

Cmdr. Justin Jolley of the Coast Guard marine safety unit in Pittsburgh said that 26 barges broke free from moorings near a bridge and that 11 were quickly contained to one side by another towing vessel just downstream. Nine others were collected at the Emsworth lock and dam downstream.

Five or six barges went through the dam. Four ended up just downstream at a lock and dam, while another ended up on the bank of the river and was stabilized. Marine safety units were searching for one barge unaccounted for, Jolley said.

No injuries were reported, and there were no reports of damage to bridges or to Army Corps locks and dams, Jolley said. Pittsburgh public safety officials reported damage to Peggy's Harbor, a marina on the river. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the McKees Rocks Bridge was closed as a precaution but later reopened following inspection.

Twenty-three of the barges were carrying dry cargo, mostly coal, and at least one was loaded with fertilizer, according to the owner, Jolley said. Three were empty. There were no hazardous materials on any of the vessels, the city said.

The Coast Guard put out a broadcast notice to mariners to inform them about the potential hazard, but high water conditions were preventing traffic on the river, Jolley said.

The barges were owned or operated by Campbell Transportation Co., the city's statement said. Jolley said Coast Guard officials were working with the owner on a salvage plan. Pennsylvania State Police and other agencies were also alerted.

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