Flooding Shuts Down Commercial Traffic on Upper Mississippi
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) _ Unusual June flooding forced locks to close Friday on the upper Mississippi River, shutting down shipping on a 215-mile stretch of river and stranding 56 towboats and their barges.
Utilities that rely on barges for coal said they had stockpiles and should not be hurt, but grain shippers were stuck.
The shutdown was expected to expand northward an additional 230 miles Saturday and could last two weeks or more, officials said.
The shutdown could cause grain prices paid to Midwestern farmers to fall and prices paid by overseas customers at the Gulf of Mexico to rise, analysts said.
The flooding was caused by recent torrential rain in the Midwest. Parts of Wisconsin have gotten 10 inches of rain this month and flooding caused an estimated $50 million in damage to homes, roads and crops.
In southeast Iowa, as much as 10 inches of rain fell Thursday afternoon. Minnesota also has had heavy rain, with 11 inches in some areas Wednesday.
The Mississippi was expected to crest 7 feet above flood stage Sunday at St. Paul, below the river’s confluence with the swollen Minnesota River.
Sandbagging was under way in St. Paul and a small airport was expected to close during the weekend. The Chicago and North Western Transportation Co. said the flood threat disrupted operations at its South St. Paul rail yard.
The river was expected to reach 23 feet at Dubuque, Iowa, by Tuesday, 6 feet above bank full and the third highest since record-keeping started, the National Weather Service said.
River pilots had been warned at midweek that the rain upriver would close the lock and dam system, largely because water would get high enough to reach electrical equipment.
Cargill Inc., the nation’s largest grain company, had stopped loading its 50,000-bushel barges with corn and soybeans a week ago. Paul Dienhart, a spokesman for the Minneapolis-based company, said Friday barges won’t resume loading for two to six weeks.
On Friday, lock 17 at New Boston, Ill., was the first to close, followed by two more. Bill Gretten, assistant chief of project operations for the Corps of Engineers’ Rock Island district, said nine of 12 locks between Dubuque and Hannibal, Mo., would be shut down within days. At least three locks upriver from Dubuque will also close, according to a spokesman for the corps’ St. Paul, Minn., district.
A total of 29 locks and dams create navigation pools on the river above St. Louis.
Flooding on the Mississippi is not unusual early in the year, with shipping interrupted this past spring and in spring 1986.
″This late in the year, it’s never happened before,″ said Lauren Hager, lockmaster at Lock and Dam 12 in Bellevue, Iowa.
″Nobody plans for flooding this late in the year,″ he said.
Randy Allman, director of the Iowa Grain and Feed Association, said the flooding also would cause hardships for shippers of farm supplies, such as chemicals and fertilizer.
All four utilities that have coal-fired generators on the Upper Mississippi have fuel stockpiles of at least 60 days, according to Dave Lingo, manager of the Mid Continent Area Power Pool in Minneapolis.
But the shutdown will hurt companies that ship the coal.