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With the Mississippi River nearing 13-year lows in some areas, the Coast Guard has closed two stretches after at least five lines of towed barges have run aground this week in the waterway's shallower depths.
Both 2-mile stretches affected by -- near Ste. Genevieve and St. Louis' Jefferson Barracks bridge -- were to remain closed to all vessels until surveys Thursday assessed the river's navigability, the Coast Guard said.
The closures came a day after the Coast Guard asked barge operators to limit operations on 185 miles of the Mississippi from St. Louis south to Cairo, Ill. That area includes the two stretches closed after four lines of barges ran aground Wednesday, in one case involving eight barges that briefly broke free from a 20-barge tow near Ste. Genevieve.
In a fifth case, one of three barges being towed ran aground Tuesday near Hartford, Ill., outside the area affected by Tuesday's safety advisory.
No injuries or pollution problems were reported after any of the groundings.
A dry fall and below-normal temperatures in the upper river basin have left the Mississippi at near-historic low levels near St. Louis, the Army Corps of Engineers said.
On Wednesday, the river was 4.4 feet below the preferred low-water mark of 12.5 feet, closing in on the minus 5.1 feet reading of Dec. 26, 1989. The shallowest depth recorded was minus 6.1 feet Jan. 16, 1940.
Drought also is causing the corps to limit navigation on the Missouri River. Alarmed by low storage levels in the Missouri's reservoir system, the corps plans to reduce the navigation season by five days in November, with a final determination to be made in March.
The corps says the Missouri is down about 2 feet from normal in both directions from Omaha, Neb.
Traffic has also been hindered on the Illinois River, where a 12-barge tow ran aground near Florence, Ill.