By Karl Plume
(Reuters) - The Coast Guard reopened a stretch of the Mississippi River near Hartford, Illinois early on Friday as the waterway was deemed safe for navigation following a vessel accident and oil spill near the confluence with the Missouri River.
The river had been closed from mile markers 194 to 198 after a towboat struck an area where barges were tied up along the shore at 12:57 a.m. CDT and several barges broke loose, colliding with other facilities and docks, the Coast Guard said.
They also struck a barge that was being loaded with crude oil, and about 300 gallons (1,100 liters) were spilled into the river.
All of the breakaway vessels were secured and the river reopened at 2:13 a.m.
The Coast Guard completed an assessment by Friday afternoon that found no evidence of spilled oil along the shoreline, but harbor patrols will continue to monitor for any environmental effect, Coast Guard spokesman Colin Fogarty said.
"If we do discover that there are environmental impacts, it is likely the Coast Guard would shut down a section of the river to facilitate safe removal of the oil and rehabilitation of the area," he said.
Finding 300 gallons of crude oil in the flood-swollen river may prove difficult as currents in the area are about twice as strong as normal.
Cleanup crews are on standby, Fogarty said.
(Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Dale Hudson)