IMAGE: BURNING BARGE
Paul Ingram  /  AP
A barge carrying crude oil burns after hitting a railroad bridge over the Mississippi River Thursday night near Vicksburg, Miss.
msnbc.com news services
updated 2/2/2007 3:23:45 PM ET 2007-02-02T20:23:45

A barge carrying crude oil erupted into flames and drifted about 12 miles down the Mississippi River after striking a railroad bridge, authorities said, spilling oil and shutting the river to traffic.

The flaming barge, one of four carrying oil, was corralled and pushed against the riverbank downstream from Vicksburg after the accident Thursday night. The barge was completely engulfed by flames, spilling flaming oil in the area, the Coast Guard said.

No injuries were reported, authorities said.

Crews later put out the fire on the barge, which was carrying 18,000 to 19,000 barrels of Canadian crude oil to the New Orleans area, said Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer James Tylman.

“There’s some pollution in the area,” Tylman said. “They’ve got containment around the barge that was on fire.”

The barges are operated by Florida Marine Transporters Inc., based in Mandeville, La.

The company plans to pump the oil into another barge and repair the one that caught on fire, said Steven Bryan Sr., compliance manager.

The collision did not rupture the hull of the barge and only a small amount of oil spilled, Bryan said.

Authorities closed the railroad bridge and the Interstate 20 bridge that crosses the river at the same point, but have since reopened I-20, the only road across the river.

"Everyone is safe, which is the most important thing," Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace said.

John Roberts, the captain of a towboat pushing the barges, called in the accident as soon as it happened, authorities said. The vessel was pushing the barges downstream as the river was rising because of recent rains.

Pace said it is common for barge floats, which are pushed downriver by towboats, to hit a bridge.

"What's different here is it caught fire," he said.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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