NATCHEZ — Record flooding has caused authorities to close the Mississippi River at the port in Natchez because barge traffic could put more pressure on the levees.
Coast Guard Petty Officer Bill Colclough said the port was closed Monday, leaving two vessels waiting to head north and one waiting to go south. The U.S. economy could face a bill running into the hundreds of millions of dollars a day if the lower Mississippi River is closed to shipping for days or weeks, port officials said. It wasn’t clear when the river would reopen to traffic.
The Mississippi River is expected to crest Saturday in Natchez at 63 feet, down a half-foot than earlier predictions, but almost five feet above a record set in 1937. The river at Natchez was already three feet above the 1937 level as of Monday morning. To the north, the river is projected to crest Thursday at Vicksburg at 57.5 feet, more than a foot above the 1927 record there.
It could take weeks for the water to recede to normal levels.
During the spring, the Mississippi is a highway for towboats bushing barges laden with corn, soybeans and other crops brought down from the Ohio, Missouri and Mississippi river systems. Grain and other farm products come down the river, mostly by barge but some by rail, to the Port of South Louisiana, north of New Orleans, for export. They are loaded onto massive grain carriers headed overseas.
At least 10 freight terminals along the lower Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans have suspended operations because of the high water, said Roy Gonzalez, acting president of the Gulf States Maritime Association, which represents steamship agents and terminal operators. In many cases, their docks are already at water level or going under, he said.
The Port of New Orleans could be affected as well since some manufactured products for export also come to New Orleans by the Mississippi.
Vessels scheduled to use the terminals will either have to wait out the high water, divert to other terminals and in the case of inbound foreign vessels, use other ports on the Gulf of Mexico. In either case, the additional vessel costs for delays can routinely run $20,000 to $40,000 per day, port officials say.
The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said there are more than 4,200 people displaced in Mississippi due to flooding, most of them in Vicksburg. The area from Vicksburg northeast to Yazoo City, along the Yazoo River, has seen some of the worst flooding in Mississippi.