Mississippi River Mayhem: High Water Causes Barges to Break Free Up and Down Mighty Mississippi

A Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew surveys the region surrounding Cape Girardeau, Mo., as part a joint response to the Midwest Flooding, Jan. 3, 2016. Coast Guard aircrews were brought to Cape Girardeau to be used as search and rescue platforms and monitor high water and flooding in the region. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard Aircrews)
A Coast Guard helicopter crew surveys the region surrounding Cape Girardeau, Mo., as part a joint response to the Midwest Flooding, Jan. 3, 2016. U.S. Coast Guard Photo

High water on the Mississippi River continues to wreck havoc on barge shipping on Lower Mississippi River. 

By our count, at least 50 barges have broken free and several others have been damaged or sunk from the high water caused by one of the worst flooding events in modern history in the region.

The mayhem started towards the end of 2015 when torrential rains hammered the midwest, pushing water levels in several of the region’s rivers past flood stage as they emptied into the Mississippi River, sending floodwaters raging towards the industrial south.

Here’s a timeline of events and incidents we have seen so far on the Lower Mississippi River:

Dec. 31 – The Coast Guard issues its first High Water Safety Advisory for the Lower Mississippi River, warning that high waters are expected for several weeks based on forecasts.

Jan. 10 – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opens the Bonnet Carre Spillway in Norco, Louisiana to relieve high water levels in the Mississippi River near New Orleans. The opening is the first since the Spring of 2011 when heavy rainfall in the central U.S. combined with seasonal snowmelt, causing flooding on a scale not seen since first half of the 20th century.

Jan. 12 – Four barges breakaway from the towing vessel Cynthya G. Esper after alliding with the Helena Highway Bridge pier at mile marker 661.7 near Helena, Arkansas at about 10 p.m. Two of the barges carrying denatured alcohol are damaged, spilling 292,000 gallons into the water over a four-day period.

Jan. 12 – The Ron W. Callegan hits the Vicksburg Railroad Bridge at mile marker 435.8 near Vicksburg, Mississippi. Nine of the 22 barges containing coal break free, two of which sank. Coast Guard restricts maritime traffic to vessels responding to the incident.

Jan. 13 – The towing vessel Inez Andreas hits the same Vicksburg Railroad Bridge, causing two barges to break free including one which sank. The river remains open, but the Coast Guard begins evaluating additional safety measures to limit future incidents.

Jan. 14 – The vessel Robert D. Byrd allides with the Vicksburg Railroad Bridge at 7:44 a.m. No barges break free.

Jan. 15 – The towing vessel Lucia collides with barges at a fleeting area at mile marker 95 on the Mississippi River near the Crescent City Connection Bridge in New Orleans. Six barges break away and 20 gallons of oil enter the water. Coast Guard closes river for 3.5 miles for about 10 hours.

The Carrollton Gauge approaching Flood Stage of 17 feet. Photo credit: U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers
The Carrollton Gauge approaching Flood Stage of 17 feet. Photo credit: U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers

Jan. 19 – Coast Guard issues a high water safety advisory on Lower Mississippi River from mile marker 869, near Caruthersville, Missouri, to mile marker 303 near Natchez, Mississippi. A high water safety advisory is also in effect from mile marker 219 to mile marker 240 near Baton Rouge, La. Carrollton Gauge in New Orleans at mile 102.8 indicates a Mississippi River Stage of 16.7 feet on the rise, just barely below flood stage at 17 ft. Advisories, restrictions and closures area in place for several waterways impacted by the flooding.

Jan. 20 – The towing vessel Wally Roller hits the Vicksburg Railroad Bridge, causing all six barges to break free.

Jan. 20 – Twenty-two barges loaded with loaded with coal and petroleum coke breakaway at mile marker 54 on the Mississippi River, near West Point a la Hache, closing the river between mile markers 51 to 54. The breakaway barges hit three deep-draft vessls, the Q Jake, Serena P and Ocean Tomo, causing damage to all three vessels. One of the vessels releases soy beans into the river.

Jan. 21 – The Amy Francis pushing six barges allides with the Natchez-Vidalia Bridge at mile marker 363 near Natchez, Mississippi. One barge containing slurry oil is damaged and an unknown amount spills into the river.

Jan. 21 – The towing vessel Thomas Kay pushing 19 barges allides with the Vicksburg Railroad Bridge. One barge containing ethanol is damaged.

Jan. 21 – The Captain of the Port issues a waterway restriction from mile marker 363 near Natchez, MS north to mile marker 438 near Vicksburg, MS restricting towboats pushing barges to not transit under the bridges.