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Coast Guard reopens Mississippi shipping lane
Traffic on US' busiest waterway remains limited as measure to protect ships, levees and other flood control structures.
Last Modified: 17 May 2011 22:57



The US Coast Guard said it has reopened a shipping lane in the Mississippi River near Natchez, Mississippi, one day after shutting the key US waterway due to flooding.

However, the Coast Guard is still limiting traffic on the river near Natchez on Tuesday as a measure to protect ships, levees and other flood control structures.

Only one tow vessel hauling barges up or down the river will be allowed to pass through a 15-mile stretch of the Mississippi near Natchez while water levels continue to rise near record highs, the Coast Guard said.

The closure had halted cargo vessels on the nation's busiest waterway, blocking vessels heading toward the Gulf of Mexico and others trying to return north after dropping off their freight.

Heavy flooding from Mississippi tributaries has displaced more than 4,000 in the state, about half of them upstream from Natchez in the Vicksburg area.

Port officials said the interruption could cost the US economy hundreds of millions of dollars per day.

Strained economy

Economic pain from the flooding could be felt far from the South because of the river closure. During the spring, the Mississippi is a highway for towboats pushing barges laden with corn, soybeans and other crops brought down from the Ohio, Missouri and Mississippi river systems.

Farm products come down the river to a port near New Orleans to be loaded onto massive grain carriers for export.

At least 10 freight terminals along the lower Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans have suspended operations because of the high water, said Roy Gonzalez, acting president of the Gulf States Maritime Association. In many cases, their docks are already at water level or going under, he said.

Vessels scheduled to use the terminals will either have to wait out the high water or divert to other terminals or ports. Additional costs for delaying any one vessel routinely run $20,000 to $40,000 per day, port officials say.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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