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Mississippi flooding’s impact on freight, economy spreads downstream

Jun 20, 2019 at 07:55 AM CST

The Mississippi River has been swollen for several months, disrupting commerce up and down its 2,300-plus miles. Historic flooding has ruined billions of dollars worth of crops and farmland in the Midwest, and the damage has been spreading downstream, all the way to Louisiana. The flooding has also damaged levees, dams, bridges and roads, putting stress on the commercial river traffic that is crucial to American industry. Rich Teubner is vice president of Seacor AMH, a company that operates three dozen tow vessels that shuttle barges up and down the Mississippi. This is how he described the situation to the New Orleans Advocate on June 15: “It’s like being in an airport during severe weather when you’re trying to get out. It slows everything right down, and everyone is stalled in the queues waiting to get through.” The immediate effects of the flooding have been fairly obvious, and river pilots have been working around the clock while the U.S. Coast Guard has forced ships and barges to berth for days. Long-term disruptions in barge traffic flow on the Mississippi are bound to have additional detrimental effects, but to what degree remains to be seen. “It’s a ripple effect,” Teubner added. “If a ship doesn’t come in and offload those containers that we pick up at the port, then we’re stalled there. In addition, it is taking a lot more time to get through the locks, and the restrictions [imposed by the Coast Guard] mean there is only one-way traffic on many parts of the river.”