Runaway Barges Slam Into Oklahoma Dam and Sink on Arkansas River

Weather Channel

Two wayward barges slammed into a dam on the flooded Arkansas River on Thursday north of Webbers Falls, Oklahoma.

Aerial video from KFOR showed the barges, which broke free Wednesday night, hitting Lock and Dam 16. The barges then sink under the rushing water. 

The barges were carrying 3,800 tons of fertilizer, the Associated Press reported.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Little Rock District inspected the dam and reported minimal damage.

“The barges contacted the piers for gates 7/8/9 & 10, capsized and are currently submerged below the water on the upstream side of the dam. Due to current water conditions, it is unclear at this time how much barge debris (if any) may have passed through the dam,” the Corps said in a statement Thursday evening.

Submerged debris was blocking the three gates, but the Corps said there was no danger of the dam failing.

Meanwhile, officials in Tulsa have evacuated neighborhoods along the Arkansas River and announced more water will be released from the Keystone Dam.

Runaway Barges

Interstate 40 and Highway 64 were reopened Thursday evening after being shut down because of the threat from the barges that broke loose from the Port of Muskogee.

Overnight Wednesday, the town of Webbers Falls’ Facebook page urged residents to “evacuate Webbers Falls immediately” and stated that the barges had the potential to hit Lock and Dam 16. “If the dam breaks it will be catastrophic!! Leave now!!”

On May 26, 2002, 14 people died after two barges rammed a pier on the bridge, bringing down a 500-foot-long section of the interstate.

In the latest incident, the barges passed under the Highway 62 bridge without hitting anything, KOTV reported. Thursday morning, the barges got stuck on the jetty about a mile from the lock and dam, but broke free again.

A mandatory evacuation order was issued for the town about 5 p.m. CDT Wednesday as waters from the Arkansas River continued to rise.

“This is a life-threatening situation,” officials posted on the town’s Facebook page. “If you choose to stay you are doing so at your own risk. If you choose to stay we advise you write your name and personal information on your arm in permanent marker. Please be safe!”

The community of about 600 residents is 70 miles southeast of Tulsa.

Other Flooding Fears

The barge situation is just another storyline in the days long siege of severe storms that have spawned deadly tornadoes are also causing flooding that has destroyed at least five homes and forced residents to evacuate.

At least eight people have died in the storms.

(MORE: Destructive Tornado Tears Through Jefferson City, Missouri, Causing Multiple Injuries, Extensive Damage)

The National Weather Service has forecast that the Arkansas River will rise to 23 feet in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The Army Corps of Engineers will increase the rate of release from the Keystone Dam to 232,736 cubic feet per second, the Tulsa World reports. The city will activate flood sirens every half-hour for six hours starting at 6 p.m.

The HollyFrontier oil refinery in Tulsa, Oklahoma, suspended operations Thursday because of the Arkansas River flooding.

Elsewhere, in the Twin Lakes community near Cimarron City, Oklahoma, three homes were swept off their foundations and two others were halfway underwater, volunteer firefighter Lori Dahlem told The Oklahoman. The Cimarron River has eroded 50 to 60 feet of riverbank. Logan County Sheriff Damon Devereaux said several other houses were already in the water or about to fall into it.

Residents and businesses on the north side of the Missouri River in Jefferson City were also under a mandatory evacuation order. Jefferson City police Lt. Dave Williams estimated that only about five to 10 homes are in the area, the Associated Press reported.

The Missouri National Guard moved four helicopters out of the city’s airport as a precaution and and a Memorial Day weekend air show was canceled, according to the AP report.

In Missouri, a heavy downpour led to a fatal crash Tuesday on U.S. 160 near Springfield. Brandon Beasley, 23, and his wife, Christin Beasley, 24, of Willard, Missouri, were killed when their SUV hydroplaned across the highway and struck a tractor-trailer, the Associated Press reported.

Laura Renee Moorman, 53, was killed about 7 p.m. Tuesday in Payne County, Oklahoma, after she drove her vehicle around a barricade on Perkins Roads south of State Highway 33 and was swept away by high water, KFOR reported.

Earlier Tuesday, a woman who was rescued from a submerged vehicle near Wellston, Oklahoma, later died at a hospital in Stillwater, The Oklahoman reported. Dorothy Jean Cook, 76, of Wilburton, apparently drove around barricades on State Highway 66 about 11:30 a.m. and her car was swept off the road, Wendi Marcy, Lincoln County Emergency Management director, told the newspaper.

Three people were killed Wednesday in a tornado in Golden City, Missouri, and a 74-year-old woman in Adair, Iowa, died Tuesday when her home was hit by a reported tornado.

Residents in parts of two other Oklahoma towns were urged to evacuate as floodwaters rose along the Arkansas River, including the Tulsa suburb of Sand Springs, home to more than 19,000, and Fort Gibson, located about 50 miles southeast of Tulsa and home to more than 4,000.

Tulsa’s River Spirit Casino closed at 2 p.m. Wednesday as the river continued to rise, the Tulsa World reported. All guests, employees and visitors were asked to leave. It remained closed on Thursday.

Five people had to be rescued from their flooded homes in Blackwell, Oklahoma, after the Chikaskia River overflowed its banks, KOKH reported.

Flooding had closed more than 330 Missouri roads, along with roadways in 17 Kansas counties, the Associated Press reported.

Water was standing on Interstate 44 at mile marker 118, near Phillipsburg, Missouri, northeast of Springfield, but the highway remained opened.

State highways were closed in at least four counties in Arkansas on Thursday morning because of flooding, according to the state’s Transportation Department. They included sections of Highways 252 and 255 in Sebastian County, 169 and 173 in Ashley County, 17 in Arkansas County and 120 in Mississippi County.

Flood-related delays forced Amtrak to suspended train service Wednesday and Thursday along a route between St. Louis and Kansas City.

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