Wednesday, June 11, 2008
A southbound tow pushing 15 barges struck a support of the Julien Dubuque Bridge closing the bridge to traffic and sending several loose barges south down the river, according to Dubuque city officials. The barge hit the bridge at an angle, crashed into a column with a loud screeching noise, and propelled concrete dust into the air as cables snapped apart, according to several eye witnesses. Ben Minger, 34, of Dubuque, was near the riverfront with his family and watched the barge approach the bridge just after 8 p.m. The crash sounded like a car ramming a concrete wall head-on, he said. "It was going very fast," Minger said. "We watch barges all the time, and we've never seen a barge going that fast before." Greg Cyborski, 60, of Potosi, Wis., also said it appeared as if the towboat was traveling faster than normal as it approached the bridge. It neared the Illinois side instead of the large gap open to river traffic on the Iowa side of the bridge, he said. Three runaway barges filled with corn still were lodged against bridge supports, said Dena Gray-Fisher, spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Transportation.The bridge closed immediately after the crash, and department officials will try to inspect the bridge this morning, if weather conditions allow, she said. "But with flooding you never know," Gray-Fisher said. Authorities didn't know why the tow didn't clear the bridge, Assistant Dubuque Fire Chief Scott Neyens said. One of the barges pinned against the bridge had started to take on water, he said. Several towboats succeeded in corralling all the barges that had floated down the river, according to a press release issued by the city of Dubuque. Ten of the barges were carrying corn, four carried soybeans and one had iron ore. Pat Reidy, 50, of Dubuque, was on the Spirit of Dubuque excursion boat when the captain announced that they would be coming upon the loose barges, he said. One barge was caught on the Illinois side of the river, and several others floated nearby, but he said the boat and its passengers never appeared to be in danger. There was no report of injuries.