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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Several barges broke loose on the Monongahela River between the Rankin Bridge and the Homestead Grays Bridge on Thursday afternoon.

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Allegheny County says approximately 15 barges loaded with coal were loose, with the original call coming in around 5 p.m. The loaded coal barges broke loose around mile marker 10 on the Monongahela River in Rankin Borough. The barges belong to Gulf Materials of Braddock. Two of the barges sunk and one of them appeared to be spilling coal into the water.

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The Department of Environmental Protection said coal does not post an imminent threat to downstream water intake or aquatic life, but it will continue to monitor the situation as cleanup begins. The DEP is assisting local emergency responders in the effort.

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Three of the barges struck the Rankin Bridge and four headed downriver toward the Grays Bridge. Both bridges are now opened after being closed earlier in the day for inspections.

Crews are currently attempting to pull the barges together. The Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard were notified and the county requested their assistance with corralling the barges. A number of tugs and other water craft responded and are working to secure the barges. Allegheny County Emergency Services Chief Matt Brown said that the remaining barges are secured to tugs just above the Homestead Grays Bridge. By 9 p.m., the remaining barges were secured to tugboats. Crews will work to account for those that sank.

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There is currently no word on what caused the barges to break loose.

David Highfield