Worries remain after runaway barges hit Webbers Falls dam

WEBBERS FALLS, Okla. - Two runaway barges have crashed into a dam near Webbers Falls, and neighbors along the river are worried the structure will not hold up.

A long journey down the swollen Arkansas River ended with a crash.

The impact sank two runaway barges filled with fertilizer in seconds.

High waters caused the barges to break loose Wednesday night from the Port of Muskogee, shutting down I-40 where hundreds were left stranded.

Thursday morning, crews had a slight sigh of relief as the 4,000 ton boats were found stuck on a rock, but the attempt was unsuccessful.

The barges slipped from rescuers once again and headed straight toward the Webbers Falls Lock and Dam.

“It’s spooky, very spooky,” said a Webbers Falls resident.

The chase forced troopers to follow.

City officials ordered evacuations for neighboring towns.

“If they didn't leave, they had to take a sharpie and write their name on their arm so they could be identified when they found their bodies,” said Gore resident Shane Mannon.

The panic isn’t over.

The two sunken barges remain lodged against the locks.

Oklahoma Highway Patrol are calling the situation “catastrophic” if the dam doesn’t hold because an already flooded Webbers Falls is waiting on the other side.

"We're getting our pictures and clothes and the important things, important papers and that's about all we can do,” said Webbers Falls resident Marlene Paul.

Both I-40 and SH-100 are both reopened to traffic.

According to the Tulsa District of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, submerged barge debris is obstructing three gates (7, 9 and 10) from being able to fully close, but they found no integrity issues that make them concerned it will not perform as designed.

Tulsa District Operations Division leaders are coordinating with the barge owner (Oakley) to coordinate the salvage operation to remove debris from Lock and Dam #16. Simultaneously, the Tulsa District Environmental Specialist produced and submitted the necessary environmental reports and is coordinating with Oakley, the U.S. Coast Guard and others on the spill response (1,500-tons of phosphate-based, non-toxic, fertilizer).

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