October 25, 2014

WWII minesweeper sunk at St. Louis 20 years ago today

She received two battle stars for her service in World War II and was credited with clearing eighty-two mines. She patrolled the waters around the Okinawa island chain during the struggle to control it in 1945, and helped clear the waters off Japan and Korea ahead of occupation after the war. Now, she lies on her side in the Mississippi River, defeated by the Great Flood of 1993.

The wreck of the Inaugural lies on its port side in the Mississippi River about a half-a-mile south of the Poplar Street Bridge.  (Photo courtesy, the National Historic Landmarks program)

The wreck of the Inaugural lies on its port side in the Mississippi River about a half-a-mile south of the Poplar Street Bridge. (Photo courtesy, the National Historic Landmarks program)

She is the minesweeper Inaugural, brought to St. Louis in 1968 just months before the Arch was inaugurated, to be a museum ship. During her time on the Riverfront she was joined at various times by restaurant boats, showboats and even a replica of Columbus’ ship the Santa Maria for a brief time.

20 years ago today when the Mississippi reached 49.58 feet, more than 19 feet above flood stage, the Inaugural broke loose from her moorings at about 10:45 in the evening. She and three other vessels housing a Burger King, a Taco Bell and a heliport, floated down the river.

They hit the Poplar Street Bridge. Historian at the Jefferson Expansion Memorial, Bob Moore, picks up the story.

The Inaugural while on display as a museum ship on the Mississippi Riverfront in St. Louis.  (Photo courtesy, the National Historic Landmarks program)

The Inaugural while on display as a museum ship on the Mississippi Riverfront in St. Louis. (Photo courtesy, the National Historic Landmarks program)

“The police actually closed the bridge for public safety reasons about 11:20 in the evening. They said that the bridge would be closed for several hours at the time, which it was, but the boat broke free of its hangup on the bridge.”

The heliport wound up on the Illinois side, the Taco Bell sank and the Inaugural and Burger King boat were corralled by the Coast Guard.

The Inaugural was pushed to the Missouri side of the River about a half-a-mile south of the Poplar Street Bridge and left there. On the morning of September 23 she was reported to be listing to her port (left) side and by that afternoon she was on the bottom of the Mississippi where she remains today.Moore says it’s a shame.

The Inaugural lies on its side in the Mississippi River about a half-a-mile from the Poplar Street Bridge in St. Louis.  (Image courtesy, Google Maps)

The Inaugural lies on its side in the Mississippi River about a half-a-mile from the Poplar Street Bridge in St. Louis. (Image courtesy, Google Maps)

“She was a really nice ship in a great state of repair and a great example of that type of ship, and a reminder really of the bravery of all those sailors and officers who fought in World War II.”

Moore says most of the things that could be removed from the ship have been, either by salvagers or thieves, and today there is little hope that the ship will be salvaged. She lost designation as a National Historic Landmark in 2001.

“There may be portions of the ship that might be preserved that people might see at some point. I’m not sure who is salvaging it and whether they might be on display someplace, but the ship itself I think is a loss.”

Moore is among those who remember visiting the Inaugural when it was a museum ship.”I’m always disappointed when a piece of history is lost. It really was a shame. It was an unavoidable accident that was caused by nature, but it’s still a loss.”

An attempt was mounted to scrap the hull when Mississippi River levels were low in January, but they rose and the effort was halted.

The Inaugural was one of two remaining Admirable-class minesweepers. A sister ship, the Hazard, is the only surviving vessel of that class and remains on display in Omaha, Nebraska.

More information on the Inaugural including listings of the sailors who served aboard her and many photos can be found here.

Corps closes Mississippi River at St. Louis

The Corps of Engineers has closed about a 5-mile stretch of the Mississippi River at St. Louis due to high water levels. The Corps is barring River traffic from the McKinley Bridge to the Merchant’s Bridge.

The River at St. Louis has reached 40 feet, about the 5th or 6th largest flood in the city’s history and considered a once-in-twenty-five-years event. Engineering and Construction Chief Dave Busse says it could be pushed higher by rain later this week.

“The rainfall can always be less or more than what the National Weather Service is forecasting, but we see nothing now that would give us a view that we would be in a ’93-type situation.”

The River crested at 49.6 feet in the flood of 1993.

Upper Mississippi River Chief Ryan Christensen says the River isn’t just unsafe for barge traffic.

“As of right now we’re urging all people on the Illinois River, the Upper Mississippi River and the Missouri River … recreational traffic … to stay off the River. It is not a good time to be on the River. There are high currents, there is a lot of drifts, most of the boat ramps are probably underwater right now anyway, so if you’re thinking of recreational traffic please shift it off of the main Rivers.”

Busse says the River is also near record height at Cape Girardeau.

“We’re about the 10th highest, and the forecast from the National Weather Service would put us about the fifth highest, and still around a 50-year event. A major event, but nowhere near 1973 or 1993.”

Barge associations to Obama: order more water to save Mississippi River barge traffic

Two river barge trade groups say barge traffic on the Mississippi River could come to a halt next week if someone doesn’t put more water in the River.

Waterways Council, Inc. is one of two groups that says as early as next week there won’t be enough water in the Mississippi River for the towboats that move barges to operate. It has joined the American Waterways Operators in calling on President Barack Obama to act to avoid an effective closure.

Two unions say after next week, barges on the Mississippi River will have to remain tied up until as late as April unless the Corps of Engineers releases more water into the Missouri River or the Midwest gets lots more rain.

Two unions say after next week, barges on the Mississippi River will have to remain tied up until as late as April unless the Corps of Engineers releases more water into the Missouri River or the Midwest gets lots more rain.

Waterways Council President Mike Toohey says for every 60 days barges stay off the Mississippi, 20,000 jobs and $130 million in wages are threatened and $7 billion in commodities are stranded.

“The inputs to manufacturing such a chemicals, which are a huge component of transportation on the waterways, simply don’t reach the manufacturing facilities … because there really is no other alternative to water transportation. The railroads do not have the water side deliver access that is necessary and we do not have enough trucks to take up the slack.”

Corps of Engineers spokesman Mike Petersen agrees levels are likely to get low enough to keep towboats off the River, but says the Corps can not release more water.

“The Missouri River can’t operate for the support of Mississippi River navigation just by their legal authorities, but the more important question is that if we start releasing water, we’re looking at year one of a drought. We don’t know how many years this drought is going to go on and it’s tough making decisions with water resources in a good year, but we have to keep our eyes on the long-term as far as what we’re going to do with water in any of the Corps reservoirs across the nation if we’re going to be dealing with a persistent drought.”

Toohey says the shut down could last until April unless some significant rain comes to break the drought and raise River levels.

The unions say towboats need a nine-foot draft to operate, and Toohey says very few vessels on the Mississippi can operate with anything more shallow. The unions say the River will be down to 8 feet next week.

Petersen says the Corps is already doing all it can.

“We actually just started releasing some additional water from Carlyle Lake. This would be the second kind of burst of water from Carlyle to support navigation through that reach of River at Thebes (Illinois) … that’ll reach Thebes at about the same time that the forecasts expect us to reach critically low levels.”

Petersen adds, “but ultimately … it’s going to take a whole lot of rain to get us back to normal.”