Panicked casino gamblers ran for the doors when three adrift barges rammed their riverboat, sending people to the floor, cutting off electricity and sending the motorless boat into the current.
"I was playing the machines, and the next thing I knew, there was a big boom, like a big jerk," Paul Hudson said. "Everyone got scared. The first time it hit, I got so scared and I fell on the floor."We're just glad to be off. When it hit, we thought it was going (down)."
The Saturday night crash happened when a towboat hauling barges on the Mississippi River crashed into a bridge near the St. Louis Arch, letting loose three barges.
All three barges struck the President on the Admiral riverboat, a permanently docked casino with about 2,500 people on board. The boat's upstream mooring gave way, causing one end of the craft to swing out into the water away from its dock and head downstream.
The towboat caught up with the riverboat and pushed it against the riverbank to prevent its other mooring from breaking in the current.
Other towboats were able to secure four barges that broke loose, as well as the eight barges that the towboat had to release to assist the casino. One of the barges sank.
No one was reported seriously injured. About 30 people were treated for minor injuries. Five or six people required medical treatment for chest pains, authorities said.
Officials on Sunday were trying to decide how to redock the boat.
"Had the other end of the boat been knocked loose, it would have crashed into another bridge and it could have been worse than the Titanic in that we had 2,500 passengers on (the riverboat)," Fire Chief Stanley Newsome said Sunday.
During the crash, the Admiral's natural gas line was severed, but fire crews used water to disperse the gas, Newsome said.
Officials worked through the night and into Sunday to remove passengers from the Admiral. They hoped to have the boat back in place by late Sunday or Monday.
The river's high water level and raging current turned the tugboat Anne Holly sideways, allowing the barges to escape, said Lou Draper, port engineer of American Boat Co., which owns the tug.
But Coast Guard officials said the water level, although high, was safe for travel.
About 50 people were able to escape across the boat's ramp before it fell into the water, passengers said. Remaining passengers disembarked on excursion boats, with the last group arriving on shore shortly after midnight - about 4 hours after the crash.
"Looking there now, it seems peaceful," said 29-year-old Kristine Johnson of Des Moines, Iowa, after she got off the boat. "But actually being on there was something scary."