'It just kept coming'
140 injured as freighter smashes New Orleans mallDecember 15, 1996
Web posted at: 10:45 a.m. EST
NEW ORLEANS (CNN) -- Search and rescue crews were sifting through the wreckage Sunday of New Orleans' Riverwalk shopping complex, where at least 140 people were injured when a freighter loaded with grain lost power and slammed into the dock.(600K/15 sec. QuickTime movie)
Officials said Sunday morning that no fatalities could be confirmed and that no one was reported missing.
The 10-year-old Riverwalk is just south of New Orleans' famous French Quarter, near many other popular tourist attractions. It stretches from Canal Street to Julia Street, just below the Aquarium of the Americas.
Four floors of the complex along a 200-foot section of the Mississippi River collapsed Saturday afternoon when the Liberian-registered ship Bright Field, adrift on the river's swift downstream currents, hit the dock.
Only two people were hospitalized, both with fractured pelvises. The others were treated and released.
The Coast Guard said that an oil pump may have failed, causing the ship's sole engine to slow down. When that happened, the ship's steering mechanism was lost.
'It just went black inside'
"It just kept coming," said mall worker Chris Storey. "It started to shake and we looked out the store window -- glass and water and ceiling just starting falling in. People started running out in panic and it just went black inside."
Sunday morning, the freighter was tied to the dock and held in place by tugboats while Coast Guard crews used infrared sensors and dogs to comb the wreckage for anyone who might be trapped inside the building. Officials were also trying to determine how best to move the 68,200-ton ship without causing further damage.
Riverwalk houses several stores and restaurants, along with the Hilton Hotel.
After the collision, venetian blinds and insulation from the building hung from the bow of the freighter. Parts of restaurants, stores, a parking garage and an exercise room floated on the river. Inside the mall, shops and restaurants were a tangled mess of metal, wood and glass.
"It's almost like a pancake, about a football field long," said City Councilman Oliver Thomas. "Right where there was a wharf there is water now."
Dangerous river section
The Mississippi River as it winds through New Orleans is one of the busiest and most dangerous waterways in the world. The current -- along the almost 90-degree bend that gives the city its Crescent City nickname -- is often a swift 9-10 miles per hour. Additionally, the river depth is at a high level, making the waters more treacherous.
The captain of the Bright Field sounded a warning blast before the ship hit the dock, sending holiday visitors at Riverwalk scurrying. The ship's bow narrowly missed a casino boat and two cruise ships docked at the wharf.
Authorities initially feared some people may have leapt or been thrown into the river, but by Sunday morning the Coast Guard said it did not believe that was the case.
Correspondent Charles Zewe and Reuters contributed to this report.
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