Turbulent rising river presents navigational challenges

Turbulent rising river presents navigational challenges

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - On the Mississippi River, another 6-inch rise was noted Thursday, creating problems for pilots of huge ships during their busiest time of year. The river at the Carrollton Gage had reached 15 feet.

"When the river reaches 17 feet, it's one of the strongest forces of nature on the planet," said Shawn Gibbs with the Crescent River Pilots Association.

A ship sliding through the southbound turn at Algiers Point shows what happens when the force of the river acts on one of the largest objects built by man - and it can be treacherous.

"When the river is rising, the velocity of the current is much stronger than with a static river at a high stage," Gibbs said.

The river's rise has been dramatic. A graph shows a 2-foot height jump in just five days.

"As the river rises, every day it starts to behave in its own way," said Gibbs.

The Coast Guard has restrictions in place to limit problems.

"The typical tow size is 40 barges, and we've reduced that to 30," said Coast Guard Capt. Wayne Arguin.

Barge companies are also being required to triple up their mooring lines to avoid breakaways, which can badly damage ships.

"One incident on the river not only stops that ship, but it stops everything," said Gibbs.

As of Thursday, upriver-bound vessels will also be blocked from entering South Pass unless they can do 10 mph, to avoid stalling out in the fast current. But it's a current piling up new silt in new locations and posing new problems.

"I know a couple of ships the last couple of days have hit a mud lump in the Pilottown area," said Gibbs. "But no serious damage has been reported."

The high river is affecting some barge companies like Zito's Marine in Harahan on the river side of the levee. Fewer barges on the river mean fewer barges to repair, but pilots say the restrictions are necessary.

"If you have a breakaway with multiple barges, it takes time to gather them and put them away," said Gibbs.

The massive river volume is also carrying massive amounts of debris, but all that could change when the spillway is opened.

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