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Tornado Closes Cumberland, Scatters Barges

Tornadoes that killed more than 20 people across central Tennessee and destroyed dozens of homes and businesses early March 3 also ripped 30 barges from a fleeting area on the Cumberland River and downed a high-voltage transmission tower and line, closing the river.

The river was closed from Mile 187 to Mile 193, although companies taking part in fleeting operations in the area were allowed to continue to do so as long as they stayed well away from the tower and line, said U.S. Coast Guard Lt. David Schneider, a public affairs officer for Sector Ohio Valley. The Coast Guard planned to attempt to begin recovery of the tower on March 5.

Kent Furlong, president of the Hines Furlong Line (HFL), said the company’s fleeting area at Mile 176 on the Cumberland River in Davidson County, just downstream of downtown Nashville, Tenn., took a direct hit. That caused several barges that had been secured via wires and chains to dead-men mooring anchors along the shore to break free and scatter several miles downstream.

“Some of the barges did sustain damage, but there were no spills or injuries,” Furlong said.

Some barges crashed into recreational docks along the river, he said, but could not immediately estimate how many were hit or how badly the docks were damaged.

The barges were not owned by the Hines Furlong Line, so Furlong said he was not releasing specific details. He said the barges were a combination of empties and those carrying both dry and liquid cargo.

Schneider said 30 barges broke free around 2 a.m. Central time, that five were sand barges and that 13 were tanker barges loaded with either diesel or gasoline. He confirmed that there had been no spills but noted the Coast Guard was working with marine surveyors to conduct a follow-up assessment that includes checking the structural integrity of the barges.

The barges were reported as secured by 6:45 a.m. March 3. They were secured by HFL boats and helper boats from other river industry companies, then collected, Furlong said.

He praised the Hines Furlong Line employees, whom he said did a tremendous job securing and collecting barges in difficult conditions in the dark, as well as those from other companies’ boats who helped.

“That’s really the great thing about this business, how the industry comes together,” Furlong said.

HFL was unable to get some other boats to assist in securing the loose barges immediately because of the river being closed between downtown and the fleeting area.

The National Weather Service confirmed that an EF-3 tornado moved from west to east across Nashville, causing the damage. The tornado had winds estimated at between 136 and 140 mph., according to the weather service. It was the third time the downtown Nashville area had been hit by a tornado. The other times were in 1933 and 1998, according to the National Weather Service.

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