Rising Mississippi waters bring barge traffic near halt

Chicago | Reuters –– Rapidly rising floodwaters brought barge traffic to a near standstill on the middle section of the Mississippi River on Monday, halting shipments of goods such as soybeans, concrete and road salt, government officials and traders said.

The deadly storms have killed more than 40 people in flooding and tornadoes, snarling air and road traffic during one of the busiest travel times of the year.

The rain and snowfall were washing into Midwestern rivers, making it dangerous to operate barges and almost impossible to load them, barge traders said.

The Mississippi River at St. Louis was expected to rise to nearly 45 feet by Thursday, which would be the second-highest crest after the record of 49.58 feet on Aug. 1, 1993, according to the National Weather Service.

The river by Tuesday was likely to rise to 38 feet, when the U.S. Coast Guard could decide to close the municipal harbor at St. Louis, said Sean Haley, a public affairs officer at the Coast Guard.

“We’re continually monitoring the rivers of the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois rivers. They’re at very high flood levels,” Haley said.

Several locks and dams north of St. Louis were already closed for seasonal maintenance. Further closures of locks south of St. Louis because of floodwaters were possible, said Amanda Kruse, a public affairs specialist at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees U.S. locks and dams.

The flooding was already increasing costs. Exporters along the U.S. Gulf Coast boosted their bids for soybeans by nearly US10 cents per bushel to the highest levels in one and a half months on Monday because of the lack of barge traffic that left the shippers short of supplies.

“It’s a mess. There’s not going to be any activity,” a Minnesota-based barge trader said.

But the waters were likely to recede as quickly as they rose, making the delays relatively short-lived, officials said.

Michael Hirtzer reports on agriculture and ag markets for Reuters from Chicago.

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