Ohio River Reopens After Catastrophic Flooding and Rogue Barge Chaos

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The tranquil rhythms of maritime traffic returned to the Ohio River in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, bringing four days of unsettling calm to an end. A flotilla of 26 barges had taken a rogue journey, unhinged from their moorings and borne away by the swollen river during a weekend of catastrophic flooding.

As the waters retreated, the U.S. Coast Guard swung into action, according to Lt. Eyobe Mills, who declared, “The river is open. The Ohio River is open,” lifting the hearts and hopes of those yearning for a return to normalcy.

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In the aftermath of the incident, the Coast Guard had deemed a stretch of the river north of the city perilously off-limits to vessels. This came after the untethered barges wreaked havoc in their paths, clashing against the architecture of a bridge and laying waste to a duo of marinas. By Tuesday, however, one of the rogue barges was located by sonar, duplicitously playing hide-and-seek in a watery grave and giving the Coast Guard the cue to restore navigation.

Mills provided guidance for mariners, advising: “They can transit, they just need to be cautious.” Unseen dangers still lurk beneath the water, but alert mariners would brave through.

The barge operator, Campbell Transportation Company Inc., undertook the Herculean task of salvaging the remaining barges. Their commitment bore fruit, as five of the seven barges ensnared against the Emsworth Locks and Dam were extricated on Tuesday. The task is not entirely fulfilled, as two daunting barges still hold the Dam hostage, with another rebellious barge entrenched upstream.

“We will continue to implement our recovery plan for the remaining affected vessels,” assured Gary Statler, the company’s senior vice president for river operations. He highlighted three critical corners of their plan: “consideration for the safety of the recovery workers, the public, and the barges.”

While the Coast Guard sleuths to unravel how the peripatetic barges embarked on their unscheduled journey, Statler pointed to a plausible reason: “High water conditions on the rivers, resulting in strong currents due to flooding in the area.”

The Ohio River had mounted an unpredictable performance last week, with water levels surging and falling at breakneck speed. It compelled constant adjustment of restraints to secure the vessels in place, reminding both the vigilant and the unaware of the inherent risks of high waters.

Despite the potentially dangerous situation, individuals sourced their strength from knowledge and anticipation. Matt Brown, chief of the Allegheny County Department of Emergency Services, applauded the mariners for their proactive stance. “It’s not very often this happens, but we know that’s when the biggest threat level is. That’s the time they’ve really got to watch, hour by hour,” he said.

Miraculously, amidst the chaos and consternation, no injuries reported and the Sewickley Bridge, after an inspection revealing no significant damage, was reopened for vehicular traffic on Saturday.

The incident casts a long shadow over the operations of Campbell Transportation Company Inc., based in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. The company remarks a formidable portfolio – ownership and management of over 1,100 barges, transporting about 60 million tons of dry and liquid cargo annually.

This misadventure was etched into the annals of maritime history a short two weeks after the calamitous collapse of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge, a casualty of a rogue cargo ship, resulting in the untimely demise of six construction workers.

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Melinda Cochrane is a poet, teacher and fiction author. She is also the editor and publisher of The Inspired Heart, a collection of international writers. Melinda also runs a publishing company, Melinda Cochrane International books for aspiring writers, based out Montreal, Quebec. Her publication credits include: The art of poetic inquiry, (Backalong Books), a novella, Desperate Freedom, (Brian Wrixon Books Canada), and 2 collections of poetry; The Man Who Stole Father’s Boat, (Backalong Books), and She’s an Island Poet, Desperate Freedom was on the bestseller's list for one week, and The Man Who Stole Father’s Boat is one of hope and encouragement for all those living in the social welfare system. She’s been published in online magazines such as, (regular writer for) ‘Life as a Human’, and Shannon Grissom’s magazine.