VICKSBURG, Miss. (AP) – Crews extinguished a burning barge Friday, hours after it struck a railroad bridge, erupted into flames and drifted for miles down the Mississippi River, apparently spilling oil.

The river remained closed to traffic while officials determined whether more fire could break out.

The barge, which was carrying crude oil, broke away from three others after hitting the bridge in Vicksburg on Thursday. The barge drifted for about 21/2 hours before it was corralled and pushed against the riverbank about 12 miles downstream, the Coast Guard said.

Coast Guard and environmental officials flew over the area Friday to determine the scope of the spill, Chief Petty Officer James Tylman said.

The remaining oil was to be transferred to empty tank barges before crews began work to salvage the burned barge, Tylman said.

Workers reported a sheen on the water Friday and oil globules, some as large as pie pans, said Robbie Wilbur, spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.

Still, “there does not appear to be a significant amount of oil in the water,” he said. Booms were placed in the river around the disabled barge as a precaution, Wilbur said.

The barge company – Florida Marine Transporters Inc., based in Mandeville, La. – said Friday that an examination of the area showed no sign that oil was released into the water. The company also said Louisiana environmental officials had conducted a visual inspection and “reported no adverse environmental impact.”

No injuries were reported.

The railroad bridge and the Interstate 20 bridge, which crosses the river at the same point, were temporarily closed.

The captain of the towboat pushing the barges called in the accident immediately, authorities said. The vessel was pushing the barges downstream as the river was rising because of recent rains.

Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace said barge floats commonly hit bridges as they are pushed downriver by towboats.

“What’s different here is it caught fire,” he said.


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