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Transportation Companies Scramble for Alternatives to Flooded Routes

July 18, 1993

Undated (AP) _ The Midwest’s raging rivers were tangling traffic Sunday for planes, trains and automobiles. Truck and barge schedules were also snarled.

″If you look at the entire transportation system, everything is affected,″ Transportation Secretary Federico Pena said on CNN’s ″Newsmaker Sunday.″

″We have 11 general aviation airports which are under water or seriously affected. We have at least six bridges (out),″ he said. ″We have major disruptions of rail lines, both long-haul and short-haul rail lines.″

Along more than 200 miles of the Mississippi River, south from Burlington, Iowa, to St. Louis, there was not a passable bridge, causing ″a long-term interference with commerce,″ Pena said.

″That is a very serious interference,″ he said.

To restore the transportation system, he said, ″is going to be an enormous undertaking.″

In Illinois, 24 sections of state highway - about 125 miles of roads - were closed during the weekend. The Missouri Transportation Department issued a list of road closures four pages long. In Iowa, 36 roads were out of commission.

On the Mississippi River, 2,000 barges, perhaps more, were unable to carry cargo, and won’t be able to travel up and down the river again until it subsides and locks are restored.

Trains also diverted routes to avoid submerged track.

″We have a map with every railroad system on it,″ said Cathy Westphal, a spokeswoman for Santa Fe Railroad, which detoured 21 trains Sunday. ″When any railroad has a washout, they go out with a little magnifying glass and try to find another route.″

Railroads allow each other use of tracks in emergencies such as a flood. Still, the route changes have caused two- to three-day delays and major supply headaches, Westphal said.

″We do have a war room - the logistics are like a military campaign,″ Westphal said.

″Freight is delayed. The whole country is delayed,″ said Don Eppinger, an agent for Universal All Continent trucking of Chicago.

Tomato packers in California, for instance, needed to ship the fruit to the East Coast before it rotted. General Motors wanted parts for a plant in Oklahoma. And California vintners didn’t like the idea of stockpiling their wine.

Santa Fe gave those products priorities and reported some headway in reopening its lines.

Amtrak’s California Zephyr was running on alternate tracks and making no stops between Chicago and Omaha on Sunday, spokeswoman Pat Kelly said. The passenger rail service’s Southwest Chief wasn’t operating between Chicago and Albuquerque, N.M., but was running the leg from Albuquerque to Los Angeles, she said.

Besides the affected airports, pilots faced travel limitations.

Officials said no aircraft could fly lower than 3,000 feet when crossing over the Mississippi River between Canton, Mo., and Cape Girardeau, Mo., to ensure the safety of authorities surveying the area.