Flooding rains allowed 26 barges on the Ohio River to break loose and flow downstream threatening Pittsburgh bridges. Authorities closed the bridges, which have since reopened.

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Officials closed several bridges across Pittsburgh late Friday and Saturday morning as more than two dozen cargo broke loose and careened down the Ohio River.

“The McKees Rocks Bridge was closed in both directions, and rail traffic was shut down on the rail bridge to Brunot Island,” public safety officials in said in a . “Both will be reopened when it is determined that it is safe to do so.”

The 26 barges broke loose about 11:25 p.m. local time after flooding swelled the Ohio River. According to Pittsburgh Public Safety, only three barges were empty. The rest were loaded with dry cargo like coal.

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    The force of the water slammed one of the barges against the cement pier so hard that it bent. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District)

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    Some barges flowed over the dam. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District)

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    Some barges came to rest against the dam while others continued over. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District)

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    There were rapids in the flooded Ohio River. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District)

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    Breakaway barges against a dam in Pittsburgh. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District)

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    The heavy, filled barges sat low in the turbulent Ohio River. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District)

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    Rushing water threatens to lap over the side of the barge. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District)

The barges caused “extensive damage” to Peggy’s Harbor, public safety officials said. A reporter said that the barges crashed into between 60 and 70 boat slips, crushing both the boats and the dock. He said a boat owner told him, “I’ve never seen carnage like this before.”

Through bridges and over 2 dams

A tugboat corralled 11 of the barges as they struck the Bruinot Island train bridge. The second part of the video attached to the top of this story shows barges approaching the bridge and making it through without colliding. Some had the help of a manned boat. 

One of the coal-filled barges attempts to slide through the piers.

(U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District / FOX Weather)

“They may be able to get them through without striking it. One barge has gone through. It looks like there’s another one. And here is a third,” a reporter said while giving an account on video posted on . “You may not be able to tell from this angle, but there was another motor vessel downriver that I saw as we approached the bridge. So far, it appears that they’ve been able to push some through.”

After inspection, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation reopened the rail bridge around 2:30 a.m. Sunday. Fourteen barges continued their uncontrolled journey downriver. The first part of the video showed those barges hitting the Emsworth Dam.

According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the coast guard secured nine barges at the lock and dam. As of Saturday afternoon, only one had been removed. One empty barge sunk, and six barges went over the dam, according to public safety officials. Another of the secured barges broke free again Saturday.

(U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District)

Four of those continued and went over the Dashields Locks and Dams, according to the Corps. Those were eventually secured as well. 

The Corps was still reporting one missing barge. Authorities reopened the McKees Rocks Bridge around 6:15 a.m. local time.

Record rain

Due to the high water, the NWS issued a Flood Advisory until the afternoon of April 18. Several roads and sections of the city remain closed.

The heavy rain triggered swift water rescues across the city. EMS crews pulled one woman from a sinking car.

A continued pattern has allowed an active storm track to impact the Ohio Valley, with several episodes of heavy rainfall. The National Weather Service reported that Pittsburgh is on track to have its wettest April on record.