Barge Crash Inquiry Under Way

Cleanup is under way, and so is an official investigation, after three runaway barges collided with a casino riverboat in Missouri Saturday night.

"I was playing the machines, and the next thing I knew, there was a big boom, like a big jerk," Paul Hudson said. "Everyone got scared. The first time it hit, I got so scared and I fell on the floor."

The crash occurred when a towboat hauling barges on the Mississippi River crashed into a bridge near the St. Louis Arch, letting loose three barges.

All three barges struck the President on the Admiral riverboat, a permanently docked casino with about 2,500 people on board. The boat's upstream mooring gave way, causing one end of the craft to swing out into the water away from its dock and head downstream.

The towboat caught up with the riverboat and pushed it against the riverbank to prevent its other mooring from breaking in the current.

No one was reported seriously injured. About 30 people were treated for minor injuries. Five or six people required medical treatment for chest pains, authorities said.

Other towboats were able to secure four barges that broke loose, as well as the eight barges that the towboat had to release to assist the casino. One of the barges sank.

The river's high water level and raging current turned the tugboat Anne Holly sideways, allowing the barges to escape, said Lou Draper, port engineer of American Boat Co., which owns the tug.

But Coast Guard officials said the water level, although high, was safe for travel.

Draper said the crash was not related to a union strike by riverboat pilots, and that the driver of the Anne Holly has about 25 years experience.

Pilots Agree, a union representing about a third of the nation's 3,000 riverboat pilots and captains, voted to strike on Saturday after 98 companies spurned an invitation to negotiate pay and working conditions.

Casino officials said Sunday that they felt fortunate that more people were not hurt. They also were relieved evacuation of the boat was orderly.

"This was a freak accident," said the Admiral's general manager Jesus Aviles. "There is nothing that you can train for."

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