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Mississippi’s low water level reveals shipwreck

BATON ROUGE (AP) — A shipwreck has emerged along the banks of the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as water levels drop — threatening to reach record highs in some areas.

The ship, which archaeologists believe was a ferry that sank in the late 1800s to early 1900s, was spotted earlier this month by a Baton Rouge resident walking along the shoreline. The discovery is the latest to emerge due to the stagnant water caused by the drought. Over the summer, receding waters at Lake Mead National Recreation Area revealed several skeletal remains, countless dried fish, a graveyard of forgotten boats, and even a sunken World War II vessel that once plied the lake.

“Eventually the river will rise and (the ship) will go under the water again,” said Chip McGimsey, the Louisiana state archaeologist who has been inspecting the wreckage for the past two weeks. “That’s part of the reason why we went to great lengths to document it this time, because it might not be there next time.”

McGimsey thinks the vessel could be the Brookhill Ferry, which probably carried people and horse-drawn wagons across the river — before large bridges crossed the mighty Mississippi. Newspaper records indicate that the ship sank in 1915 during a major storm.

But this is not the first time that low water levels have brought the ship to light. McGimsey said that small parts of the ship were put on display in the 1990s.

“At the time, the ship was completely filled with mud and there was mud all around, so only the tops of the sides were visible, so (the archaeologists) really didn’t see much else. They had to move a lot of dirt just to have narrow windows to see pieces,” McGimsey said.

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Today, a third of the boat, which is 95 feet (29 meters) long, is visible on the muddy shore near downtown Baton Rouge.

McGimsey expects more discoveries as water levels continue to drop, having already received calls about two other possible shipwrecks.

But unusually low water in the lower Mississippi, where rainfall has been below normal since late August, has also led to chaos — causing boats to get stuck in mud and sand, prompting restrictions on Coast Guard waterways and disrupting river transportation for shippers and shippers and passengers of vessels.

In Baton Rouge, the river is about 5 feet deep, according to the National Weather Service — its lowest level since 2012.

Water levels are expected to drop further in the coming weeks, dampening economic activity in the region and potentially threatening jobs.

Sara Cline, l’Associated Press

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