Fuel tank breaks loose, ends up in Mississippi channel

Saturday, August 23, 2008 | 3:07 p.m. CDT

CAPE GIRARDEAU - An old fuel storage tank that had become loose in a flash flood lodged itself in the Mississippi River shipping channel, leading the U.S. Coast Guard to warn barge operators.

The tank, about 10 to 15 feet of which was visible above the surface of the water, also brought onlookers.

"It looked like a silo stuck in the river," said Tina Tate, of Wolf Lake Ill.

The tank had been resting in a creek bed off of the river and came loose from its moorings during flooding earlier this year, according to tank owner Robert Erlbacher, who said he had been waiting for the ground near the tank to dry enough for him to cut it up and remove it.

The tank, which is about 70 years old, was used to store fuel at a depot once owned by J.D. Streett & Co., a St. Louis-based petroleum wholesaler. It has not been used for that purpose for about 15 years, said Erlbacher, owner of Missouri Dry Dock & Repair Co.

The Mississippi River is well below flood stage at Cape Girardeau, but the rains overnight resulted in a rise of about a foot during the day Friday. The rains washed the tank into the Mississippi River, where it floated less than a mile before filling with water and lodging itself against the east side of the shipping channel.

Erlbacher said he hoped to have crews in Cape Girardeau early in the week to remove the tank.

Chief Petty Officer Phillip Bradberry of the Marine Safety Unit in Paducah, Ky., said the tank did not seem to be obstructing shipping lanes. The tank is about 40 feet in diameter and 40 to 50 feet tall, Bradberry said.

"The thing is hard aground on the bottom," Bradberry said. "They tried to move it with towboats but couldn't budge it."

The Coast Guard will make sure lights are properly placed to alert traffic at night and continue broadcasting the warnings as long as needed, Bradberry said. But it won't take over attempts to remove the tank, he said.

"They are responsible for it," Bradberry said. "They are taking the actions to get it removed."

It's not the first time the tank has caused trouble on the river. In mid-July, a crane being moved upstream on a mission to secure the tank struck a bridge, causing minor damage to the bridge.

The crane was unable to complete its mission, and Erlbacher said he thought the tank was wedged into the creek bed and wouldn't move.

"As it turned out, it wasn't," he said.


Information from: Southeast Missourian,



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