Death toll from India, Nepal, Bangladesh floods jumps to over 300

Flood-affected people receives water purifying tablets from volunteers in Jamalpur, Bangladesh, July 21, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

By Serajul Quadir and Sudarshan Varadhan

DHAKA/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – The death toll from severe flooding in parts of India, Nepal and Bangladesh rose to more than 300 on Monday, even as heavy rains are starting to ebb and water levels started to recede in some of the worst-affected areas.

Heavy rains and overflowing rivers swamped vast swathes of eastern India more than a week ago, and officials on Monday said so far 102 people have died in Bihar state, 35 more than what the state government had estimated on Thursday.

Torrential rains in Bangladesh killed more than 47 people in the last two weeks and at least 120 are missing and feared dead following severe floods and landslides in mostly mountainous Nepal, authorities from the two countries said.

A flood-affected woman wades through flooded area in Jamalpur, Bangladesh July 21, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

A flood-affected woman wades through flooded area in Jamalpur, Bangladesh July 21, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

Parts of Pakistan have also been flooded.

In Bangladesh, at least 700,000 people have been displaced.

Deaths due to flooding in the region more than doubled in the last five days.

At least five districts in central Bangladesh are at the risk of being flooded, as water levels of two rivers are still rising, an official at the Bangladesh Water Development Board told Reuters.

Authorities are struggling to deliver relief supplies to marooned people.

“We have enough relief materials but the main problem is to reach out to the people,” Foyez Ahmed, deputy commissioner of Bangladesh’s Bogra district, said. “We don’t have adequate transport facilities to move to the areas that are deep underwater.”

In India’s tea-growing state of Assam, close to the border of Bangladesh, severe flooding has displaced millions of people and killed more than 60, officials have said.

Separately, at least 32 people were killed on Sunday in lightning strikes in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state in the north.

India’s weather office on Monday forecast “extremely heavy” rain in four of the 14 districts of the southern state of Kerala.

Kerala last year faced its worst floods in about a century, with heavy rain and landslides killing nearly 500 people, destroying houses and wiping out farmlands.

Monsoon rains, which deliver 75% of India’s annual rain, have not been evenly distributed.

The Himalayan region has received substantially more rain than some of the areas in the plains, where rainfall deficiency has widened to 60%, according to the state-run India Meteorological Department.

(Writing by Sudarshan Varadhan; Editing by Mayank Bhardwaj & Kim Coghill)

Bangladesh floods worsen after breach, death toll nears 100 in India

People move along a flooded road in Gaibandha, Bangladesh July 18, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES

By Serajul Quadir and Zarir Hussain

DHAKA/GUWAHATI, INDIA (Reuters) – One of Bangladesh’s main rivers breached an embankment, flooding a northern district and forcing thousands from their homes, an official said on Thursday, as the toll from monsoon rains in neighboring India climbed to 97 in two flood-hit states.

Several million people are living in camps and makeshift settlements in India’s eastern state of Bihar and northeastern Assam, officials said, with heavy rains and flooding since last week driving even animals to seek shelter in people’s homes.

The monsoon brings heavy rains to South Asia between June and October, often triggering floods later in the season.

In Bangladesh, the Jamuna river broke through an embankment on Wednesday night, inundating at least 40 villages and displacing more than 200,000 people, government official Rokhsana Begum said.

“We have enough supply of dry food and drinking water but we cannot reach many areas due to high water levels,” said the official in the district of Gaibandha, one of 21 hit by floods.

Inadequate supplies are also a concern in the Indian state of Assam, where more than 5.8 million people have been forced out of their homes, but the situation is improving.

“No fresh areas have come under floodwaters since Wednesday night,” Assam’s health and finance minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, said.

POACHING

The state’s Kaziranga National Park, home to endangered one-horned rhinos and tigers, was waist-deep in water, with animals sheltering in higher areas, and some straying into villages.

On Thursday, an adult tiger was found sleeping on a bed in a house on the edge of the sanctuary. “It appears the tiger strayed into a human settlement area to escape the floods and now appears very tired,” park director Shiv Kumar told Reuters.

“We are preparing to tranquilize the tiger.”

The floods have killed at least 43 animals, but authorities worry that poachers could take advantage of the deluge to target animals, especially one-horned rhinos, whose numbers are down to about 3,500 worldwide.

One-horned rhinos rest on a highland in the flood affected area of Kaziranga National Park in Nagaon district, in the northeastern state of Assam, India, July 18, 2019. REUTERS/Anuwar Hazarika

One-horned rhinos rest on a highland in the flood affected area of Kaziranga National Park in Nagaon district, in the northeastern state of Assam, India, July 18, 2019. REUTERS/Anuwar Hazarika

“The biggest worry during the floods is from poachers who might take advantage of the rhinos moving to the hills and kill the animals for their horn,” said Assam Forest Minister Parimal Suklabaidya.

The death toll in Bihar, which was swamped by waters from the neighboring Himalayan nation of Nepal, jumped to 67, as rescuers reached further into flood-hit areas.

“I still feel the chances are that the number may again increase,” Pratyaya Amrit, a state disaster management official, told Reuters, referring to the death toll.

(Additional reporting by Jatindra Dash in BHUBANESWAR; Writing by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

Millions stranded in India as early monsoon downpours bring flood havoc

A woman displaced by the recent flood sleeps inside a classroom of Shree Sarsawati Higher Secondary School at Bhalohiya village in Rautahat, Nepal, July 17, 2019. REUTERS/Riwaj Rai

By Zarir Hussain

GUWAHATI, INDIA (Reuters) – Millions of people are stranded by flooding in northeast India with concern growing about food and water supplies even though the impact of heavy, early monsoon rain appeared to be easing, the government said on Wednesday.

More than 4.7 million people have been displaced in the tea-growing state of Assam, with many thousands making do with only the most meagre food supplies and dirty water.

“We’ve just been surviving on boiled rice for almost seven days now,” said Anamika Das, a mother at Amtola relief camp in Assam’s Lakhimpur district.

She said she was having difficulty breastfeeding her baby boy.

A man uses a makeshift raft to move his paddy to a safer place in a flooded area in Morigaon district in the northeastern state of Assam, India, July 16, 2019. REUTERS/Anuwar Hazarika

A man uses a makeshift raft to move his paddy to a safer place in a flooded area in Morigaon district in the northeastern state of Assam, India, July 16, 2019. REUTERS/Anuwar Hazarika

Assam has been the worst-affected part of India. Floods have also hit neighboring Nepal and Bangladesh.

At least 153 people have been killed in India, Nepal and Bangladesh. Parts of Pakistan have also seen flooding.

Subhas Bania, also sheltering at Amtola, said authorities had made no provision for the supply of drinking water.

“We’ve been forced to drink muddy water,” he said.

The rains in north India usually last from early June to October, with the worst of the flooding usually later in the season.

Assam is frequently swamped by floods when the Brahmaputra river, which flows down from the Himalayas through northeast India and Bangladesh, sweeps over its banks.

Water levels on the river and its major tributaries were beginning to fall, although they were still above the danger mark, the government said.

“We’re trying our best to reach out to the affected people in whatever way possible but yes, the situation is indeed very bad,” said Assam’s Social Welfare Minister Pramila Rani Brahma.

The government has yet to assess the impact of the floods that have battered thousands of settlements.

Bhabani Das, a village elder in Golaghat district, who has been living under a plastic sheet for four days, said the flood had swept away her home.

“Where do we go from here?”

In the state of Bihar, which has also been hit by severe flooding, beginning last week, officials said that floodwaters were beginning to recede after killing 33 people.

“Things are gradually becoming normal, people are returning home,” Bihar’s Disaster Management Minister Lakshmeshwar Roy said.

Water levels in four rivers in Bangladesh, including the Brahmaputra, were above the danger mark, with some northern parts of the low-lying country flooded.

Road and railway links between the capital city of Dhaka and at least 16 northern and northwest districts had been severed, officials said.

(Reporting Zarir Hussain in GUWAHATI, Jatindra Dash in BHUBANESWAR, Serajul Quadir in DHAKA; Writing by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani, Robert Birsel)

Remnants of storm Barry dump more rain in the U.S. southeast

Crews clear debris from Highway 23 during Hurricane Barry in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, U.S. July 14, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

By Collin Eaton

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) – The remnants of the once-mighty storm Barry, the first hurricane of the 2019 season, dumped dangerous amounts of rain as it crawled north through the United States on Monday after coming ashore west of New Orleans at the weekend.

Barry, now downgraded to a tropical depression, still packed winds of up to 25 mph and could drop 5 inches or more of rain on a water-logged Louisiana, forecaster Andrew Orrison of the National Weather Service said.

That brings the risk of dangerous flash floods from already bloated rivers across much of the gulf region and Mississippi Valley, he said.

“We’ll see the winds coming down as the day progresses,” he said. “But the big story is the rain. This is still capable of very heavy rains through the next 24 hours.”

Through Monday and Tuesday, the storm will bring 3-to-5 inches of rain with spots of 10-to-15 to eastern Arkansas, western Tennessee, and parts of Missouri and Mississippi, as it heads north toward Ohio, he said.

As of early Monday, about 50,000 homes and businesses in Louisiana were without electricity, according to the tracking site PowerOutage.us.

Barry, which made landfall on Saturday as a Category 1 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of intensity and then quickly weakened to a tropical storm, was expected to break up into a post-tropical depression by Monday afternoon, forecasters said.

Fears that Barry might devastate the low-lying city of New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina did in 2005 were unfounded, but rain in the forecast could still cause dangerous flooding into Monday, meteorologists said.

The additional rainfall could cause life-threatening conditions, the NWS said in a bulletin.

New Orleans saw light rain on Sunday, and churches and several businesses were open, including some on Tchoupitoulas Street along the flooded Mississippi River. Streets in the city’s Garden District were quieter than usual but some joggers and dogwalkers ventured out.

A concert by the Rolling Stones scheduled for Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, which served as an emergency shelter during Katrina, was postponed until Monday because of the weather forecast, the venue said.

Barry has shut in 73%, or 1.38 million barrels per day (bpd), of crude oil production in the U.S.-regulated areas of the Gulf of Mexico, officials said on Sunday.

(Reporting by Collin Eaton in New Orleans; Additional reporting by Gabriella Borter and Rich McKay; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Tropical Storm Barry lands first blow on coastal Louisiana, New Orleans hunkers down

A view of downtown New Orleans pictured with the Mississippi River as Tropical Storm Barry approaches land in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S. July 11, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

By Collin Eaton and Kathy Finn

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) – Coastal Louisiana felt the first blow from Tropical Storm Barry’s winds early on Friday as the slow-moving tempest was forecast to become the first Atlantic hurricane of 2019 threatening to bring rain and flooding to New Orleans later in the day.

U.S. President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency for Louisiana late Thursday, hours after the region’s oil production was cut in half as energy companies evacuated offshore drilling facilities and a coastal refinery.

Tropical Storm Barry packed maximum sustained winds of 50 miles per hour (85 km per hour) early Friday and was centered 95 miles (155 km) southwest of the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Barry will likely strengthen into a hurricane, the National Hurricane Center said, with winds of at least 74 mph (119 km) by the time it comes ashore late Friday or early Saturday, but officials warned that torrential rains posed the greatest danger.

Authorities kept a close eye on the levee system built to contain flooding along the lower Mississippi River that winds through the heart of New Orleans and has been running above flood stage for the past six months.

Barry was forecast to bring a coastal storm surge into the mouth of the river that could push its crest to 19 feet (5.79 m)on Saturday. That would be a foot lower than initially predicted but still the highest since 1950 and dangerously close to the top of the city’s levees.

Meteorologists predicted as much as 25 inches (64 cm) of rain could fall, leading to life-threatening flooding along parts of the Gulf Coast on Friday and Saturday.

The brunt of the storm was expected to skirt the western edge of New Orleans, avoiding a direct hit. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said the city has not ordered any voluntary or mandatory evacuations. But she added that 48 hours of heavy downpours could overwhelm pumps designed to purge streets and storm drains of excess water in the low-lying city.

“There is no system in the world that can handle that amount of rainfall in such a short period,” Cantrell said on Twitter.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards warned: “The more information we get, the more concerned we are that this is going to be an extreme rain event.”

Officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which maintains the levees, insisted that no significant breaching of the 20-foot-tall levees in New Orleans was likely.

Some residents, recalling the deadly, devastating floods unleashed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said they were determined to get out of harm’s way.

Others flocked to supermarkets for bottled water, ice, snacks and beer, thronging grocery stores in such numbers that some ran out of shopping carts.

Throughout the city, motorists left cars parked on the raised median strips of roadways hoping the extra elevation would protect them from flood damage.

A concierge at the luxury Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans noted many cancellations ahead of the storm. The hotel had been hosting the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority’s 54th national convention and most attendees checked out early, said the concierge, who declined to give her name.

A tropical storm warning was in place for metropolitan New Orleans, and a hurricane warning was issued for a stretch of the Louisiana coast south of the city.

Mandatory evacuation orders were issued for areas of Plaquemines Parish beyond the levees southeast of the city, and for low-lying communities in Jefferson Parish, to the southwest.

(Additional reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Writing by Scott Malone and Steve Gorman; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Storm Barry bears down on New Orleans with ‘extreme rain,’ flooding risk

Tropical Storm Barry is shown in the Gulf of Mexico approaching the coast of Louisiana, U.S. in this July 11, 2019 NASA satellite handout photo. NASA/Handout via REUTERS

By Kathy Finn

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) – Some residents and visitors prepared to flee New Orleans on Thursday as Tropical Storm Barry closed in and officials warned of “extreme rain” and flooding if the storm makes landfall by early Saturday as the first Atlantic hurricane of 2019.

City officials urged residents to shelter in place rather than evacuate as the storm had maximum sustained winds of 40 miles per hour (64 kph) as of 2 p.m. CDT (1900 GMT) on Thursday, the National Weather Service said.

Forecasters issued a storm-surge warning of up to 6 feet (1.8 m) for a stretch of Louisiana coastline south of already-sodden New Orleans stretching from the mouth of the Atchafalaya River to Shell Beach. Rain was an equal danger, given that the lower Mississippi River, which runs through New Orleans, has been above flood stage for six months.

The lower Mississippi is forecast to peak at 19 feet (5.9 m) on Saturday, the highest it has been since 1950, according to the National Weather Service.

“The more information we get, the more concerned we are that this is going to be an extreme rain event,” Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said at an afternoon news conference. “If Tropical Storm Barry becomes a hurricane, it would be the first time we’ve had the hurricane hit the state with rising rivers.”

He said he expected the storm to measure a Category 1, the lowest rung on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane wind strength, when it comes ashore.

The slow-moving storm was located about 90 miles (145 km) south of the mouth of the Mississippi River at 2 p.m., the National Hurricane Center said.

Meteorologists predicted between 10 and 20 inches (25 and 50 cm) of rain would fall on the Gulf Coast on Friday and Saturday from East Texas through New Orleans and the Louisiana coast.

‘CANNOT PUMP OUR WAY OUT’

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell warned that 48 hours of heavy rainfall could overwhelm the pumps the city uses to fight floodwater, leading to flooding as early as Friday morning.

“We cannot pump our way out of the water levels that are expected to hit the city of New Orleans,” Cantrell said. “We need you to understand this.”

Richard Vasquez packs his car with belongings as Tropical Storm Barry approaches land in Port Sulphur, Louisiana, U.S. July 11, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Richard Vasquez packs his car with belongings as Tropical Storm Barry approaches land in Port Sulphur, Louisiana, U.S. July 11, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Water pumps already were working at capacity after heavy rains, she said.

Oil companies have shut a third of offshore Gulf of Mexico production ahead and a coastal refinery was set to shut down due to an evacuation order prompted by the storm, pushing oil and gasoline prices higher.

Cantrell said no official evacuation orders were being issued but urged people to gather supplies, secure their property and shelter in place.

But some in New Orleans, hard hit when Hurricane Katrina swamped the city in 2005 and killed 1,800 across the region, were getting out.

In the city’s Bywater neighborhood a block from the Mississippi River, Betsey and Jack Hazard were preparing to repair a fence around their house and flee with their two small children to Mississippi.

“It’s really the river that has us worried,” said Betsey Hazard, saying she feared it could overtop the nearby levee. “They say that the river won’t flood in New Orleans but we have a 5-year-old and a 10-month-old, and we don’t want to take any chances.”

In the normally bustling French Quarter, popular with tourists, only a couple of tables were occupied at the coffee-and-beignet restaurant Café du Monde.

Kate Clayson of Northampton, England, and her boyfriend Maxx Lipman of Nashville, Tennessee, said they had arrived on Wednesday for a vacation but were planning to depart on Thursday.

“The woman at our Airbnb said the water came up to the first step of our house yesterday so we’ve just decided we’d better get out,” Clayson said.

The storm will become Hurricane Barry if it reaches wind speeds of 74 mph (119 km) as expected when it makes landfall near the mouth of the Mississippi River and just west of New Orleans.

The National Weather Service said the city had received 6 to 9 inches (15 to 23 cm) of rain by Thursday morning, causing dramatic flooding in the area, including on Bourbon Street in the city’s historic French Quarter.

(Additional reporting by Gabriella Borter and Jonathan Allen in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Bill Trott)

Life-threatening rains pound U.S. capital; White House basement offices leak

Flood waters are pictured in North Arlington, Virginia, U.S., July 8, 2019 in this picture grab obtained from social media video. Twitter/Hope Hodge Seck/@hopeseck/via REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Driving rains flooded parts of Washington, D.C., on Monday, shattering a daily record in just an hour, forcing 15 swift-water rescues from stranded cars and causing an undeniable leak in the White House.

“This is a life-threatening situation. Seek higher ground now!” the National Weather Service warned amid torrential rains that dropped 3.3 inches (8.4 cm) at Reagan National Airport from 9 a.m. through 10 a.m. ET (1200-1300 GMT), shattering in one hour the previous record of 2.2 inches (5.6 cm) set in 1958.

It was the seventh-wettest July day since record-keeping began in 1871, said NWS meteorologist Marc Chenard.

“They broke their daily record in an hour,” he said.

Even more rainfall was recorded further northwest, in Arlington, Virginia, where about 5 inches (12.7 cm) fell from 9 to 10 a.m., Chenard said.

The rains eased by late morning and were expected to end by midday, Chenard said.

Torrents of water streamed through the ceiling of Metro stations, and major arteries serving Washington’s top museums and memorials shut down due to high water as local emergency personnel reported rescuing several people from cars. By midday, DC Fire and EMS said it had saved 15 drivers.

Firefighters used yellow rubber lifeboats to rescue those trapped by the flood waters.

Twitter images showed a photograph of a very wet floor beneath office chairs and desks on the basement level of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

“White House is leaking,” CNN journalist Betsy Klein tweeted with the picture.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington, additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Scott Malone and Dan Grebler)

Japan, hit by torrential rains, orders over one million to evacuate

A pedestrian walks through heavy rain in Kirishima, Kagoshima Prefecture, southwestern Japan, July 3, 2019, in this photo taken by Kyodo. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. JAPAN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN JAPAN. THIS IMAGE WAS PROCESSED BY REUTERS TO ENHANCE QUALITY, AN UNPROCESSED VERSION HAS BEEN PROVIDED SEPARATELY.

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan ordered more than one million people on the southernmost island of Kyushu to take shelter in evacuation centers and other safe areas on Wednesday as heavy rains triggered small landslides and threatened to cause widespread flooding.

Some parts of southern Kyushu have received over 1,000 mm (39.4 inches) of rain since Friday, about as much as usually falls in the whole month of July, broadcaster NHK said.

The Futami River is swollen due to heavy rain in Yatsushiro, Kumamoto Prefecture, southwestern Japan, July 3, 2019, in this photo taken by Kyodo. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

Forecasters expect as much as 300 mm more rainfall in some areas by Thursday evening.

Evacuation orders were issued for 1.1 million residents of Kagoshima and Miyazaki prefectures at the southern tip of Kyushu, NHK said. Some 930,000 more were advised to leave.

Only some 3,500 people had evacuated as of 4:00 p.m. (0700 GMT), according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency.

“I live alone next to a river, and it’s scary to think of water rising,” one woman in an evacuation center told NHK. Another person said the volume of rainfall was “terrible”.

Television footage showed rivers filled with fast-moving brown water, but none had overflowed their banks as of Wednesday evening, although one low dike had broken and efforts were being made to repair it with sandbags.

Several small landslides were reported, including one that swept away two cars and damaged a pre-fabricated shed. A mother and child in another car swept away by a landslide sustained minor injuries.

“The rain was just flowing all over the rice fields,” one woman told NHK.

A Twitter user posted a photo of a road covered with brown water. “Whoa, the road I take to work is a mess,” the user wrote.

In Tokyo, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said residents should “take steps to protect their lives, including early evacuation,” and he ordered the military to prepare for rescue operations.

Abe was criticized for the government’s slow response in July a year ago, when heavy rains triggered landslides and floods, killing more than 200 people in Japan’s worst weather disaster in 36 years.

(Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim, Linda Sieg, Yuri Harada and Elaine Lies; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Tom Hogue)

Armada of barges cleared for Mississippi River shipments after floods

FILE PHOTO: The Peoria Lock and Dam building is shown surrounded by flood waters of the Mississippi River in Peoria, Illinois, U.S., May 16, 2019. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/Rock Island District/Handout via REUTERS

By Karl Plume

CHICAGO (Reuters) – The upper Mississippi River reopened to barge traffic on Friday as vessels were cleared to ship through St. Louis harbor, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) said, and the situation quickly became a logistics nightmare as dozens of towboats and hundreds of delayed barges tried to maneuver upriver.

After what many grain shippers have called the worst river flooding ever in terms of timing, breadth and duration, the vessels may finally be able to reach elevators in the heart of the U.S. farm belt to haul away export-bound corn and soybeans.

But the economic pain of this year’s floods on farmers, barge operators and grain traders like Archer Daniels Midland Co, Bunge Ltd and Cargill Inc will likely continue.

The Mississippi River, which transports 60 percent of all export-bound U.S. corn and soybeans to terminals near the Gulf Coast, has not been fully navigable since November due to winter closures in the north and widespread flooding this spring.

Shippers have moved some grain to port by rail, shipped it to domestic users by truck or simply left crops in storage and dropped prices offered to farmers.

Shipping delays were the latest hit to a reeling U.S. agricultural sector, already clobbered by slumping farm incomes, delayed spring planting and reduced exports due to the U.S.-China trade war.

Petty Officer Brandon Giles said the Coast Guard lifted its ban on northbound shipping through St. Louis harbor on Friday morning, allowing vessels to transit the busy port for the first time since a brief shipping window opened for a week and then closed a month ago.

Giles had no estimate as to when southbound traffic will resume. Barge shippers said southbound vessels may be cleared as soon as Saturday.

An armada of at least 50 towboats, each pushing multiple barges, was already converging on St. Louis harbor, a barge broker said. The vessels may experience lengthy delays at upriver locks that have also only recently reopened from flood closures.

Shipping restrictions due to strong currents and river-bottom obstructions from flooding were likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future.

More rain is expected over the next week, potentially slowing the river’s anticipated drop or triggering fresh restrictions on navigation.

“It won’t be like in a car race, going from a yellow flag to a green flag. It’s going to take a while to get back up to the throughput that river is normally able to provide,” said Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition.

“The worry is that this could be a very brief relaxation of restrictions, just a temporary reprieve,” he said.

BACKLOG OF BUSINESS

River closures delayed fertilizer deliveries earlier this spring as farmers prepared to plant crops. Now, as farmers are cleaning out storage bins to make room for the next harvest, the river woes have slowed the flow of grain to market.

Large agribusinesses that rely on efficient export shipments are likely to report a drag on earnings from flooding this spring in their grain trading, handling and shipping businesses when they report in July and August, analysts said.

ADM, Bunge, Cargill and Louis Dreyfus Co, known as the ABCD quartet of grain giants, all operate large export terminals along the Mississippi River near the Gulf Coast. ADM and Cargill also both own barge companies.

A backlog of grain business that has been on hold for much of the spring could have shippers and exporters playing catch-up through the summer.

“It will take me probably until the end of August to get caught up with all the freight I owe for April, May and June when we were shut down,” one barge broker said.

The flood’s cost to the grain handlers likely totals hundreds of millions of dollars, traders and shippers estimated, due to lost grain sales, missed shipping and export opportunities and increased costs for moving needed grain supplies via other means such as rail.

Weekly grain barge unloads at Gulf Coast elevators fell to just 349 barges last week, the least in any week in six years, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

Although railcar shipments to the Mississippi Gulf have more than doubled, grain volumes have been minimal. It takes 15 rail cars to move what a single barge can.

(Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and David Gregorio)

Near-record ‘dead zone’ forecast off U.S. Gulf coast, threatening fish

FILE PHOTO: The rising waters of the Gulf of Mexico crash at the shoreline of the Treasure Island community of West Galveston Island, Texas March 6, 2014. REUTERS/Rick Wilking/File Photo

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – A near record-sized “dead zone” of oxygen-starved water could form in the Gulf of Mexico this summer, threatening its huge stocks of marine life, researchers said.

The area could spread over 8,700 square miles (22,500 square km), scientists at Louisiana State University said on Monday – about the size of the state of Massachusetts, and five times the average.

Experts blamed unusually high rainfall across the U.S. Midwest this Spring that washed farm fertilizers along streams and rivers through the Mississippi River Basin out into the Gulf.

The nutrients in the fertilizers feed algae that die, decompose and deplete the water of oxygen, the Louisiana scientists said.

“When the oxygen is below two parts per million, any shrimp, crabs, and fish that can swim away, will swim away,” Louisiana State University ocean ecologist Nancy Rabalais told the National Geographic magazine.

“The animals in the sediment [that can’t swim away] can be close to annihilated.”

The problem might get even worse if any more significant tropical storms wash out more farm-fed nutrients, the scientists said.

Sewage run off, caused by the spring floods, also add to the problem, National Geographic reported.

Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted a slightly smaller 7,829 square-mile spread. The record was 8,776 square miles set in 2017.

“A major factor contributing to the large dead zone this year is the abnormally high amount of spring rainfall in many parts of the Mississippi River watershed,” the agency said in its annual “dead zone” forecast.

A solution would be to keep fertilizer and sewage run-off from getting into the rivers, NOAA said.

A Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force has been monitoring the problem and has set goals to reduce run-off.

(Reporting by Rich McKay; Editing by Andrew Heavens)