Monday, May 20

Large barge crashes into historic Fort Madision Bridge in Iowa, later sinks

A barge struck the Fort Madison Bridge in Iowa on Thursday and later sank in the Mississippi River. 

The incident occurred shortly after 1 p.m., prompting the closure of the near 100-year-old swing gate bridge, but it was reopened around 4:15 p.m., officials said. There were no injuries reported.  

Barges connected to a tug boat became loose and one collided with the Fort Madison railroad bridge, KHQA reports, citing the Coast Guard.

Video shows the barge stuck up against the double-decked bridge that connects Fort Madison with Niota, Illinois.

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In another video, the barge can be seen sinking into the river away from the bridge with a boat alongside it.

The incident evokes memories of the tragic Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse in Baltimore, Maryland, on March 6 when a Sri Lanka-bound container ship hit the structure, causing it to fall into the Baltimore harbor, killing six construction workers.

Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber told KHQA that while Thursday’s incident was an unfortunate situation, it could have been much worse.

“I think he contained it as much as possible and I mean, nobody got hurt so that’s the main thing,” Weber said. “We can fix all this other stuff.”

The bridge was shut down to all traffic to allow BNSF to assess for damage. The bridge features a double-track railway on the lower deck, while two lanes of road traffic are carried on the upper deck. It is unclear how many vehicles were on the bridge at the time or if any trains were on it when the barge plowed into it. 

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Fort Madison Police Department said online that BNSF Railway, which owns the bridge, certified the bridge is safe and gave the green light for both rail and vehicular traffic to resume. 

A representative from a barge tow company told WGEM that the barge was hauling corn and that it is owned by Ingram Barge Company based in Nashville, Tennessee.

In 2022, between 40 and 100 trains crossed the bridge each day, according to The Hawk Eye. 

The bridge is about 1 mile long with a swing span of 525 feet and was the longest and largest double-deck swing-span bridge in the world when it opened in 1927, according to the Iowa Department of Transportation.

The incident comes about four weeks after more than two dozen river barges broke loose from their moorings and floated down the Ohio River in Pittsburgh, striking one bridge that had already been preemptively closed and damaging a marina, officials said. 

The boats eventually were pinned to the riverbank or went over a dam downstream.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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