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Search persists for 2 missing in Mississippi River
Question of the Day
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Authorities carried on their search Wednesday for two men reported missing in the Mississippi River a day earlier after a barge carrying tons of steel coil flipped and sank while moored at a terminal in northeast Arkansas.
The two fell into the water Tuesday afternoon while the barge was being unloaded at a terminal east of Blytheville, about 60 miles north of Memphis, Tenn., said Bill Colclough, a U.S. Coast Guard spokesman in New Orleans. He said the barge lifted to its starboard side and sank - but why it did so wasn’t known.
The vessel, moored at the Kinder Morgan dock near Hickman, was carrying about 700,000 pounds of steel coil.
“Right now, we’re treating it as an active search and rescue case,” said Ryan Tippets, another U.S. Coast Guard spokesman in New Orleans. “It’s our job regardless to search no matter what. There’s not any indicators either way if they’re alive or dead. But we’re treating it as a search and rescue case.”
Houston-based Kinder Morgan said it did not own the barge. A spokeswoman for the company, Sara Loeffelholz, said the two men worked for Kinder Morgan through a staffing agency. Their names were not being released.
The barge was fully submerged along the river’s tree-lined banks. The river was running swiftly and just below flood stage Wednesday just south of where Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee meet.
The Coast Guard closed about 10 miles of the river so that it, the Mississippi County Sheriff’s Office and Arkansas Game and Fish Commission could search for the missing men, said Lt. Brandon McMillan, a spokesman for the Coast Guard in Memphis.
“There’s too many factors to predict where they could end up,” McMillan said. “The Mississippi River is an unpredictable river. At this point, we don’t know where they could be.”
Colclough said search efforts could continue into Thursday. McMillan wouldn’t say when searchers would transition from a rescue operation to one aimed at recovering bodies. Across the state, near Texarkana, the search for a woman who fell into the Red River on Feb. 8 was suspended after three weeks.
“Right now, our focus is the search and rescue,” McMillan said. “We are conducting an investigation on top of that. Our primary focus is the search and rescue part. … I don’t have a time when the investigation will be complete or how long it will take.”
Keith Stephens of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission said a third person was reported on the barge, but escaped to safety before it sank. Both Colclough and McMillan said they had not heard reports about a third person.
The Coast Guard was considering how to reopen the river; eight tows were lined up on either side of the search area Wednesday. Because the river flows southward, McMillan said southbound vessels may be allowed to go first because their travel would produce less of a wake.
Follow Christina Huynh on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ckhuynh
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