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Part of Mississippi River closes; 2 boats collide, spill oil

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COLUMBUS, Ky. Part of the Mississippi River was closed as crews investigated and cleaned up an oil spill caused by the collision of two tow boats, the U.S. Coast Guard said Thursday.

The collision Wednesday evening near Columbus, Kentucky, damaged at least one barge carrying clarified slurry oil. The cargo tank was ruptured, causing an unknown amount of oil to spill into the river, the Coast Guard said.

The river is closed from mile markers 938 to 922, Petty Officer Lora Ratliff said.

The barge was carrying approximately 1 million gallons, but the breach was only in one area, affecting just one of its six tanks, Ratliff said. That tank holds 250,000 gallons, but it wasn’t known how much spilled.

The Coast Guard said it was working with the barge owner, Inland Marine Services, and an oil spill response organization to determine the exact amount of oil that poured into the water.

It wasn’t known how long the river would be closed. The tow boats were moored on opposite sides of the river and a long gash was apparent in the smaller vessel. River traffic was backed up on both sides.

The cause of the collision, which happened near Columbus, Kentucky, was being investigated. The spill stretched 17 miles south to the city of Hickman.

Keleia McCloud, assistant director of the Hickman port, says both the port and ferry service were operating normally.

Hickman County official Kenny Wilson said local communities experienced no disruptions from the spill and the water supply in Columbus was not affected because it comes from wells. He said Columbus-Belmont State Park remained open.

A May 19 oil pipeline rupture in California caused a spill of what has been estimated to be up to 143,000 gallons of crude, according to documents from Texas-based Plains All American Pipeline. That spill forced a popular state park to shut down for two months, and goo from the spill washed up on beaches as far as 100 miles away.

A July 2008 spill caused by a collision between a tugboat and a barge carrying oil on the Mississippi River in New Orleans sent 282,000 gallons into the water and caused the closure of the river.

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