Kathy Kinane and her husband walked into the upscale Waterfront restaurant on the Ohio River with a surprise for the manager: They wore snorkeling gear, a joking reference to the recent rain and rising water levels outside the eatery housed on a barge.
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After a laugh, the snorkeling equipment went back into their car, though they almost needed it. After finishing their meal Friday night, the Kinanes and 81 others found themselves floating downstream during the dinner rush when the restaurant broke from its moorings. It came to rest against a bridge about 100 feet downriver, and all on board had to be rescued, one at a time, with a makeshift gangplank of ladders and ropes. Women were rescued first, then the men.
"We were joking about the river," Kathy Kinane told The Associated Press on Saturday morning. "Well, the joke’s on us now."
Officials said the hours-long rescue was orderly and calm. One patron would climb down the gangplank wearing a life jacket, which would then be sent back up for the next person. Kathy Kinane said she had to take off her heels to make her way down. Among those rescued was former Cincinnati Bengals star Cris Collinsworth, Covington fire Capt. Chris Kiely said.
Collinsworth, a pro football commentator for NBC, has long been associated with Waterfront owner and restaurateur Jeff Ruby. On the waterfront’s menu for $40 is the "Steak Collinsworth," along with other steaks and high-end entrees including lobster, sea bass and tuna. The restaurant is one of several on the river in Covington, just across from Cincinnati.
Kinane and her husband, Bill – frequent patrons of the Waterfront – had arrived around 7:30 p.m. and listened to music for awhile before joining another couple at a table for dinner. They were finishing up around 10:15 when they felt an ominous bump. Kinane said her husband peered out the window and saw that the barge was moving with the fast-paced current. They had eaten there before with the water levels rising, but the boat had always remained in place.
"That was not a good thing," she said. "We said, ‘Let’s get up and leave.’"
However, they found a crowd near the exit. The walkway ramp had broken loose from shore, and the patrons had no way of getting off the barge. TV footage showed diners pacing aboard the boat as firefighters put together the makeshift bridge above the water, which was swirling with broken tree limbs and other debris.
Kiely said several patrons had used cell phones to call for help. The power never went out, and tugboats and emergency crews arrived quickly, Kinane said.
The barge started moving when a main cable came loose, leaving the remaining cables to handle more pressure than they could withstand, said Covington Fire Chief Chuck Norris.
The barge came to rest against a bridge that spans the river, though the U.S. Coast Guard and other workers were still working Saturday to keep the boat secure until it could be towed back to its proper place. The Coast Guard and other boats worked to keep the restaurant in place until it could be moved – and it was unclear when that would happen, said U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Rob Reinhart. The river was already at least 3 feet above flood stage, according to the National Weather Service.
Traffic flowed normally across the bridge, and trains moved on an adjacent track uninterrupted.
”If the bridge wasn’t there it could have traveled down the river quite a ways,” said Rob Carlisle, co-owner of C&B Marine of Covington, which had dispatched a towboat to help secure the restaurant’s front end.
The barge had come to a halt by the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge, one of several linking Cincinnati with northern Kentucky. Reinhart said the restaurant likely would be heavily damaged if it broke free again because the top of the barge stands higher than the bottom of the bridge. He said it would have been up to local authorities to order restaurants to close because of the high river levels, though it could not immediately be determined who would be responsible for that decision.
Calls by the AP to restaurateur Jeff Ruby were not returned Saturday. He owns or operates several restaurants in Cincinnati and surrounding areas.