Loose barges temporarily shutter multiple Pittsburgh bridges

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PITTSBURGH (AP)– Strong river currents caused a dozen barges hauling coal to break loose from a tow boat, prompting the closure of major bridges crossing the Monongahela and Ohio rivers, at least one of which was struck, officials said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation said five vehicular bridges were shut down early Monday because of the loose barges, which were reported just before 5 a.m. Monday. The Liberty, Smithfield, Fort Pitt, West End and McKees Rocks bridges later reopened. Port Authority of Allegheny County

The Panhandle bridge, a light rail transit bridge, took “a direct hit from a loose barge” but also reopened after inspection, the Port Authority of Allegheny County said.

Murray American Transportation Inc. of Monessen said strong currents caused the loaded barges to break free from the M/V Brenda L. Murray II.

“We are working with the United States Coast Guard and other state and federal regulatory agencies to investigate this matter, and to determine the cause of the barge breakaway,” the company said in a statement.

The company said all barges had been secured. Lt. Shawn Simeral of the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Pittsburgh said all 12 had been accounted for although “not all have been removed from the river.”

Simeral said earlier that officials had received reports that the Liberty Bridge was struck by at least one barge and the Smithfield and Fort Pitt bridges may have been struck.

“We have barges that are near them that are not yet out of the water,” he said. “We are waiting for the bridge inspectors to confirm that for us.”

Officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Pittsburgh District, said on Facebook that they were aware of the situation, but none of the barges had impacted the Emsworth Locks and Dams, the first lock on the Ohio River.

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