COVINGTON, Ky. (AP) -- A seafood eatery aboard a barge broke from its moorings on the flood-swollen Ohio River, then drifted downriver during the dinner rush before emergency crews rescued 83 patrons using a precarious gangplank of ladders and ropes, authorities said Saturday.
Covington Fire Department Capt. Chris Kiely said diners at Jeff Ruby's Waterfront restaurant used cell phones to call for help Friday night as the restaurant floated about 85 to 100 yards downstream. Everyone on board, including former Cincinnati Bengals star Cris Collinsworth, was safe after the hours-long rescue, Kiely told The Associated Press. All were led off one at a time, wearing life jackets.
TV footage of the rescue showed dinner patrons pacing aboard the barge as firefighters put up the makeshift bridge of ladders that spanned swirling, debris-filled water. Work boats edged close amid the flashing lights of fire trucks nearby. Patron Kathy Kinane told WCPO-TV that everyone on board remained calm.
"The staff, you know, Charlie the manager did a great job, and everybody was in good spirits," she said.
Kiely said the regular gangplanks tore away or were damaged enough to leave all those aboard cut off.
"There were three gangplanks on the restaurant already and when it broke loose it destroyed sections ... the last 20 feet of the gangplanks were destroyed as the boat moved downriver," he said by telephone.
Emergency crews strapped the life jackets on those whose dinner of shrimp and seafood was abruptly interrupted. Reports said women were taken to shore first, across the improvised ladder bridge, some removing their shoes first.
Kiely, after returning from the rescue, said he saw Collinsworth -- the former Bengals star wide receiver and NBC pro football commentator -- among those rescued. Collinsworth, who was a star at the University of Florida, has long been associated with Ruby, who offers "Steak Collinsworth" at several of his restaurants.
On Saturday morning, efforts were continuing to keep the restaurant secured.
Rob Carlisle, one of the owners of C&B Marine of Covington, directed efforts by one of his company's towboats to secure the front end of the restaurant.
He told AP the restaurant had become wedged against the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge, one of several linking Cincinnati with northern Kentucky.
"If the bridge wasn't there it could have traveled down the river quite a ways," he told the AP. Light traffic moved across the three-lane bridge, as did trains on an adjacent track.
Carlisle said authorities were discussing the possibility of a crane on a barge being brought in to help put the restaurant back in place as river levels permit in coming days.
Of the three restaurant walkways linking it to the pier, one was so badly damaged that it had crumpled nearly halfway into the water, still connected but unusable. Tree limbs and other debris filled the water and garbage piled against one end of the restaurant.
The river had recently risen above flood stage after severe storms.
The National Weather Service said a flood warning was in effect for the Ohio River at Cincinnati next to Covington with the river at 4 a.m. local time at 55.3 feet -- or 3.3 feet above flood stage.
In recent days, two other waterfront restaurants in Newport, Ky., closed because of high waters from heavy rains. The Ohio River is expected to crest at 4 feet to 5 feet above flood stage within days. Low-lying areas just east of Cincinnati on the Ohio side have experienced some moderate flooding.
The restaurant is one of several dotting the waterfront, on the Kentucky side just opposite Cincinnati.
Calls by the AP to phone numbers listed for the restaurant and restaurateur Jeff Ruby were not immediately returned early Saturday. He owns or operates several restaurants in Cincinnati and surrounding areas.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)