EDGARD, La. Investigators are trying to figure out what led two barges to collide on the Mississippi River Friday morning around 2 a.m. near mile marker 139 in St. John the Baptist Parish.
The collision caused oil from a tank barge to spill into the river and ships have been operating under restricted movement in the area since.
Crews have placed containment boom around a tank barge in the Mississippi River.
A large 10-foot by five-foot gaping hole was apparent, marking where oil spilled.
'The got a hole big enough in the barge to put a car in it,' said Willie Robert, a witness.
The Coast Guard said a construction barge and a tank barge collided near Edgard. Witnesses who live nearby said they heard a loud noise around 2 a.m., but gave it little attention.
'I did hear some extra loud noises,' said Robert. 'I just figured they were moving barges around.'
The tank barge contained more than 148,000 gallons of Louisiana sweet crude.
The collision caused some of that oil to spill into the river, just how much is unclear, though the Coast Guard said it was less than 10,000 gallons.
Because of the collision, the Coast Guard ended up shutting down the Mississippi River from mile marker 135 to 140, bringing ships to a temporary standstill.
Edward Nowell is the assistant director of operations for the nearby Port of Louisiana. They keep an eye on 54 miles of the Mississippi and the barges collided squarely in their territory.
'Right now, it'd be very busy, you'd see ships, barges, tugs up and down... but as you can see, the river is empty,' he said after the collision.
Several of the downriver parishes, including St. John and St. Charles closed their water intake valves to prevent contamination of the water supply. St. John later reopened theirs, while St. Charles said they had plenty of water on hand to meet consumer supply as long as the valves were closed.
The Coast Guard is now allowing vessels one at a time to travel southbound and then northbound in alternating time periods.