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Coast Guard tries to ease Mississippi River traffic jam

From Joe Sutton, CNN
August 22, 2012 -- Updated 0757 GMT (1557 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Low water levels have affected traffic on Mississippi River
  • Bottleneck has developed near Greenville, Mississippi

(CNN) -- The backup of boats and barges on a low-water section of the Mississippi River increased Tuesday even as the 11-mile stretch reopened on a limited basis, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

New Orleans-based Coast Guard spokesman Ryan Tippets confirmed to CNN that five southbound vessels were able to pass near Greenville, Mississippi, Tuesday afternoon and evening.

A limited number of northbound vessels with a draft of no more than 9 feet were being allowed to travel overnight into Wednesday.

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The stretch was closed Monday to most vessel traffic because of low water levels, idling 97 boats and barges, according to the Coast Guard. That number swelled to nearly 115 on Tuesday, Tippets said.

This same area near Greenville, which sees about 50 vessels pass on an average day, has been closed "intermittently" since August 12, when a vessel ran aground, said Tippets.

The Army Corps of Engineers has been dredging in the area to deepen the channel and help navigation.

A historic drought and excessive heat have reduced water levels and scorched wide sections of the U.S. Midwest. Flooding last year may have worsened the situation on the Mississippi by leaving deposits of silt and debris in areas that would normally be clear.

We are "working to minimize the delay as much as possible and to get these vessels moving," Tippets said.

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