December 8, 2022

‘Worst time possible’: Mississippi River drought disrupts key commerce, strands cruise ship passengers

2 min read

The unusually low water level in the lower Mississippi River is causing barges to get stuck in mud and sand, disrupting river travel for shippers, recreational boaters and even passengers on a cruise line.

Lack of rainfall in recent weeks has left the Mississippi River approaching record low levels in some areas from Missouri south through Louisiana. The U.S. Coast Guard said at least eight “groundings” of barges have been reported in the past week, despite low-water restrictions on barge loads.

Officials cleared dozens of barges from a river channel near Lake Providence, Louisiana, and dredged it after a groundling occurred Friday, halting river traffic in both directions for days. To keep river traffic flowing, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been dredging the Mississippi at several spots and placed limits on the number of barges each tow can move.

The stoppage also brought a halt to a Viking cruise ship with about 350 passengers on board, said R. Thomas Berner, a Penn State professor emeritus of journalism and American studies, and one of the passengers.

The Viking ship was originally supposed to launch from New Orleans on Saturday, but the water there was so low that the launch was moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Berner said. The stuck barges were freed Tuesday, but Viking told passengers in a letter Wednesday that the rest of the scheduled two-week trip was being called off, citing low water problems causing additional closures. Viking made arrangements to get passengers home and the letter said they would get a full refund.