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Low level of the Mississippi River impedes traffic

The unusually low level of the lower Mississippi River is causing sloops to get stuck in mud and sand, leading to delays for shippers, recreational boaters and even cruise passengers.

A lack of rain in recent weeks has pushed the Mississippi River near record lows in some areas from Missouri south to Louisiana. The Coast Guard said at least eight ship “groundings” had been reported in the past week, despite cargo volumes on the vessels being limited due to low water levels.

One of the strandings occurred Friday between Louisiana and Mississippi, near Lake Providence, Mississippi. Traffic in both directions of the river was blocked for days “to remove stranded barges from the channel and increase the depth of the channel through dredging to prevent future groundings,” said Sabrina Dalton, a spokeswoman for the US Army Corps of Engineers. Engineers, said. in an email.

As a result, dozens of trailers and boats lined up in both directions, waiting to pass. The outage also stranded a Viking Line cruise ship with about 350 passengers aboard, said R. Thomas Berner, a professor emeritus of journalism and American studies at Penn State, who was on the vessel.

The vessel was originally supposed to leave New Orleans on Saturday, but the water level there was so low that its departure was moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, according to Berner.

As of Tuesday, the vessel was detained near Vicksburg, Mississippi, due to traffic jams caused by the groundings. It was not near a dock, so passengers could not disembark. The ship’s crew entertained people as much as possible, with music, games and other activities.

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“Some of us take naps,” Berner joked.

The stranded ships were freed on Tuesday afternoon. Berner said the vessel sailed again Tuesday night, but could not do so for long: Viking informed passengers in a letter Wednesday that the remainder of the two-week voyage was canceled due to low water. . The company arranged for its customers to return home and told them they would be refunded the full cost of the ticket.

Almost the entire Mississippi River basin, from Minnesota to Louisiana, has seen below-normal rainfall since late August. The San Luis Basin in the south has received virtually no rain in three months, according to the National Weather Service.

The timing of this is inconvenient, as the ships transport freshly harvested corn and soybeans in both directions of the river.

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Associated Press writer Adrian Sainz in Memphis, Tenn., contributed to this report.

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