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VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) — A thunderstorm with wind gusts of more than 70 mph ripped a cargo ship's anchors from the seafloor and caused it to run aground just a few hundred feet from a beach, drawing onlookers from nearby condos and apartments Wednesday morning.
The Coast Guard also blamed weather for the collision of two other vessels Tuesday night. No injuries, damage or pollution were reported due to the grounding or the collision.
Winds also caused 12 ships to drag anchor, the Coast Guard said.
"I've not seen anything quite like this," said Coast Guard Capt. John Little, the captain of the port of Hampton Roads.
The cargo ship, a 751-foot barge known as Ornak, typically hauls coal and gravel. It was anchored east of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel and ran aground not too far away near First Landing State Park. Little said the ship had two anchors in the water at the time of the storm and tried to get its engines running to fight the movement, but it had little time to react because it was already so close to shore.
Little said more ships may have run aground if it hadn't been for towing vessels and the quick work of harbor pilots who were able to come aboard the ships in the middle of the storm and guide them to safety.
Waves reached 4 to 6 feet during the peak of the storm and sustained winds were from 30 mph to 45 mph, the National Weather Service reported.
Officials were trying to determine Wednesday when they would be able to free the ship, with high winds expected to continue for several days. The Coast Guard said the ship appeared intact, but it would need to inspect it before it was able to proceed to a coal loading terminal in the area.
"It's really pretty amazing," Virginia Beach resident Dick Ullman said near the site as people gathered to take photos. "This is a first. I've been coming down this way for about 50 years, and I don't remember a ship being blown ashore like this."
The ship has a crew of 22 and is owned by a company called Polsteam and sails under a Bahamian flag, according to the Coast Guard.
The ship was resting in less than 16 feet of water Wednesday morning.
As the storm swept through southeastern Virginia, it knocked out power to about 28,000 people, according to Dominion Virginia Power.
The collision occurred about an hour before the grounding, the Coast Guard said. The 79-foot rig vessel Petite and the 1,065-foot container ship MSC Charleston were later safely anchored.
Brock Vergakis can be reached at www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis