US & Canada

Section of flooding Mississippi River re-opens to ships

Flooded road sign in Mississippi
Image caption It could take weeks for flood waters to return to normal levels

The US Coast Guard has re-opened a section of the swollen Mississippi River to shipping, after closing it to protect strained flood defences.

The authorities halted barge traffic at the port in Natchez, Mississippi, earlier on Tuesday, warning ship wakes could increase pressure on the levees.

An extended closure could have cost those who rely on the route to transport grain millions of dollars.

The river near Natchez is already 3ft (1m) above the record set in 1937.

It is not expected to crest for several days, and it could take weeks for water levels to return to normal.

Economic fallout

The Mississippi is a highway for barges carrying corn, soybeans and other crops brought down from the Ohio, Missouri and Mississippi river systems on their way to the Gulf of Mexico, so the closure would have had far-reaching economic effects.

The brief halt in ship traffic along the 15-mile stretch at Natchez was one more measure in a growing list of attempts to prevent massive flooding in heavily populated areas like New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

The move blocked south-bound vessels heading for the Gulf of Mexico, and halted north-bound vessels that had dropped off their cargo at the Port of New Orleans.

As of Tuesday evening they were to be allowed through the re-opened section one by one, at a slow speed.

The US Coast Guard has warned the heavy wakes churned up by barges and cargo haulers increases pressure on the already straining levees.

The Army Corps of Engineers opened the Morganza Spillway at the weekend, choosing to flood more rural areas with fewer homes.

That decision forced nearly 5,000 people to leave their homes across Louisiana, many of whom say they are worried about when they will be able to return.

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