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A barge carrying methanol broke free in the Ohio River

Three barges have become jammed up against the McAlpine Dam on the Ohio River, just off the shore in Louisville, Ky. Officials say a barge carrying 1,400 tons of methanol is partially submerged.
Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet
Three barges have become jammed up against the McAlpine Dam on the Ohio River, just off the shore in Louisville, Ky. Officials say a barge carrying 1,400 tons of methanol is partially submerged.

Emergency teams are working to secure 10 barges that broke loose from a tugboat on the Ohio River along the waterfront in Louisville, Ky., including a barge carrying some 1,400 metric tons of methanol that is partially submerged. It's one of three wayward barges that have wedged themselves next to a dam near a power station.

"There is currently zero evidence of a tank breach or any leaks, and air and water monitoring resources are in place," Louisville Metro Emergency Services said. It added, "There is currently no impact to Louisville Water's water intake or water quality."

The incident began just after 2 a.m. local time on Tuesday morning. That's when a tug vessel towing 11 barges hit a "stationary structure at the entrance to the Portland Canal near the McAlpine Lock and Dam," according to the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet.

Ten barges broke free, and three of them settled next to part of the McAlpine Dam. Images from the scene show one of the barges or its cargo crumpled up against a pillar at what looks to be the dam's spill gates.

Ten barges broke loose on the Ohio River near Louisville, with three of the wayward vessels coming to rest against part of a dam structure in the water.
/ Google Maps/Screenshot by NPR
/
Google Maps/Screenshot by NPR
Ten barges broke loose on the Ohio River near Louisville, with three of the wayward vessels coming to rest against part of a dam structure in the water.

The barges are near the Ohio Falls hydroelectric station, operated by LG&E and KU Energy.

"We're cooperating with the authorities as they and the barge companies work to recover the barges," company spokesperson Daniel Lowry told NPR. "It appears there was no damage to our facility, but we will assess fully for damages once those barge recovery efforts are complete."

While the Louisville emergency agency is leading the response, the effort includes the U.S. Coast Guard's Ohio Valley sector and the Kentucky Environment and Energy Cabinet. A private company, CTEH, is also at the scene, monitoring air quality.

The situation is being closely followed by ORSANCO — the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission — which has already been keeping tabs on potential effects on the waterway from the East Palestine toxic waste disaster, hundreds of miles to the northeast of Louisville.

At the Louisville site, ORSANCO told NPR, there are no reports of methanol or other chemicals being released into the Ohio River.

Officials plan to hold a news briefing to provide more updates about the incident at 1 p.m. ET Wednesday.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.