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Webbers Falls dam sustains 'minimal' damage from barge strike

Posted at 4:50 PM, May 23, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-23 19:19:18-04

Officials say structural damage is believed to be minimal after two uncontrolled barges struck the Webbers Falls Lock and Dam on Thursday.

It was a dramatic scene just before noon as two runaway barges that got loose 24 hours ago slammed into the Webbers Falls dam nearly a day after word of the barges being loose got out, and mandatory evacuations were issued.

Three of the gates are partially blocked after the crash, and engineers said after initial observations, sure there isn’t structural damage that could cause a failure.

“Webbers Falls is definitely not out of the woods in terms of danger, being flooded, the whole town could be underwater by the time this is over,” said Richard Burris, who witnessed the barge crash.

I-40 has reopened in the area after the inspection.

Read full update from officials:

TULSA – At approximately 11:58 a.m. Thursday 23 May 2019, two uncontrolled barges owned by Oakley Transport made contact with Webbers Falls Lock and Dam #16. The barges contacted the piers for gates 7/8/9 & 10, capsized and are currently submerged below the water on the upstream side of the dam. Due to current water conditions, it is unclear at this time how much barge debris (if any) may have passed through the dam.

The Webber’s Falls Lock & Dam staff, in coordination with Tulsa District Water Managers, ensured all tainter gates were fully elevated in order to minimize damage in advance of the barge strike. However, at this time submerged barge debris is obstructing three gates (7, 9 and 10) from being able to fully close.

Tulsa District engineers were immediately deployed to the structure to inspect the integrity of the dam. Initial observations are that the structural damage is minimal. We found no integrity issues that make us concerned that it will not perform as designed. We will continue to monitor and assess the dam as water conditions change. A copy of our assessment will be provided to Muscogee County Emergency Manager.

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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