Accidents

Crest Slowly Moves South On Lower Mississippi River

The slow fall on the bloated Lower Mississippi River had reached Helena, Ark., as of March 7, where the river topped out at around 50 feet—six feet above flood stage. Farther south, at Greenville, Miss., the river was in the midst of a long crest at 57 feet.

Old River Lock closed to navigation on March 6 as the Mississippi River at the Red River Landing rose above 60.5 feet. By the following day, the National Weather Service was forecasting the Mississippi River at Red River Landing to reach about 61.5 feet before beginning to fall around March 15. The record at Red River Landing is 63.9 feet, and flood stage is 48 feet and above.

The National Weather Service forecasts the river will crest at 44 feet in Baton Rouge, La., around March 12 and begin falling around March 16. As of March 7, the flow rate at Baton Rouge was 1.33 million cubic feet per second (cfs.) and 1.4 million cfs. at Red River Landing.

The trigger points to operate the Morganza Spillway are a flow of 1.5 million cfs. in the 10-day forecast and a stage of 57 feet at the structure, which is located at Mile 280, or about 50 miles above Baton Rouge. Corps officials have said they do not anticipate having to use the Morganza Floodway, which diverts water from the Mississippi River to the Atchafalaya River Basin.

Farther downriver, the Corps is continuing to operate the Bonnet Carré Spillway in order to divert a portion of the flow to Lake Pontchartrain and the Gulf of Mexico. The Corps activates Bonnet Carré when the flow at the structure reaches 1.25 million cfs., which generally equates to 17 feet at the Carrollton gauge in New Orleans. As of March 5, the Corps had opened 148 of the 350 bays at Bonnet Carré for a total discharge of 148,000 cfs.

Because of the diversion at Bonnet Carré, the river between there and New Orleans is already reaching a crest. The National Weather Service forecasts a crest of 24 feet at Reserve, La., holding through March 17, while New Orleans will top out at 17 feet and begin to fall around March 21.

The high river continued to pose a challenge to navigation over the past week. In Vicksburg, Miss., on February 27, a 30-barge tow allided with the Vicksburg railroad bridge spanning the Mississippi River, causing a pair of barges to sink. Herman Smith, superintendent of the bridge, identified the vessel involved in the allision as Marquette Transportation’s mv. Chad Pregracke. On March 3, the mv. Chad Pregracke allided with the Highway 190 bridge in Baton Rouge, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. The vessel’s five barges broke away but were quickly recovered.

Smith said it’s extremely difficult for towboats to navigate the bridge, especially in a high river, due to the righthand turn southbound vessels have to make just before approaching the bridge.

“They’re fighting current speed as well as the current hitting them in the starboard side,” Smith said.

Then on Monday, March 4, the Coast Guard Cutter Cypress reportedly lost steerage as it approached a pier at the Canal Street ferry landing near Woldenberg Park in New Orleans. The crew was attempting to dock the Cypress bow upriver into the current when the vessel slammed into the pier. Each year, the U.S. Coast Guard transports members of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club to Woldenberg Park for a Lundi Gras party and a traditional meeting with members of the Krewe of Rex at nearby Spanish Plaza.

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