Paul Murphy / Eyewitness News

NEW ORLEANS -- People walking along the New Orleans riverfront saw a frightening sight shortly after 8 a.m. The tow vessel 'Limestone Lady' and its 14 barges pushed up against the levee, just off the Moonwalk.

River traffic controllers watched the accident happen from the their vessel traffic control center on Algiers Point.

'He was where he was supposed to be,' said VTS Supervisor Bruno Touchard. 'He had a good point on the boat and he just started to set.'

Touchard said it was raining with wind blowing 20 miles per hour when the tow and barges heading up the Mississippi couldn't make the turn at the bend in the river.

Touchard said it appears the vessel was about stopped when it hit the rocks that protect the levee near the Governor Nicholls Street wharf.

'He appeared to stop the tow from setting as hard as it was and the area he decided to appear to decide to land the tow was the safest place,' said Touchard. 'There was no other vessels around. There was just an empty dock with an empty barge there.'

Kermit Warren, who works at a shop near the French Market, said he heard the barges hit the rocks.

'That didn't sound right at all,' said Warren. 'I was concerned because it had like 12 or 13 barges being pushed up the river by a tug vessel. That can be dangerous at time, you know.'

According to the Coast Guard, it's too soon to say if the vessel lost power or if other factors including the weather may have caused the accident.

'The machinery propulsion is all under investigation,' said Coast Guard investigator Lt. Parris Stratton. 'We are investigating the marine environment, the machinery and the personnel aboard the vessel.'

Stratton also said the person operating the Limestone Lady did an outstanding job avoiding the dock and the nearby Steamboat Natchez.

'There were no injuries, no pollution and damage reported as of yet,' said Stratton.

According to the Coast Guard, the tow and barges spent about 45 minutes on the rocks before they were given the all clear to continue their trip upriver.

A spokesman for the Port of New Orleans said the Limestone Lady put out a distress call. The port then activated the riverfront alert system installed after the Liberian Freighter Bright Field crashed into the Riverwalk in December 1996.

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