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)

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)

Rains ease, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana still face flood of ‘historic magnitude’

A mattress and dresser drawer are among the debris scattered on a lawn near a damaged house after several tornadoes reportedly touched down, in Linwood, Kansas, U.S., May 29, 2019. REUTERS/Nate Chute

By Alex Dobuzinskis and Rich McKay

(Reuters) – Thousands of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana residents braced for more flooding on Thursday as swollen rivers continued to rise, although the threat of rain was expected to ease by the afternoon, officials said.

Many in the U.S. Southern states have already evacuated homes, as of further flooding drove fears that decades-old levees girding the Arkansas River may not hold.

There were no reports of major levee breaks early on Thursday, said Dylan Cooper, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s office in Little Rock, Arkansas.

“The rivers and tributaries are still rising from all that water flowing downstream from up north,” said Cooper.

“We call it the bathtub effect. There’s only so much water that the levees and reservoirs can hold before that water just spills over,” he said.

The only good news is that it looks like the area is going to have a dry few days into the weekend, said Bob Oravec, a meteorologist with the NWS Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

“They can use any dry weather they can get,” said Oravec.

More than a week of violent weather, including downpours and deadly tornadoes, has lashed the central United States, bringing record-breaking floods in parts of the states, turning highways into lakes and submerging all but the roofs of some homes.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson told a news conference on Wednesday, that the state is experiencing a “flood of historic magnitude.”

Flooding has already closed 12 state highways, he said, and 400 households have agreed to voluntary evacuations.

Hutchinson sent a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday asking for a federal emergency declaration for Arkansas.

The levee system along the Arkansas River “has not seen this type of record flooding” before, Hutchinson said in his six-page letter.

Hutchinson said Trump had promised assistance in an earlier conversation, several media outlets reported.

Rivers were expected to crest by early June to the highest levels on record all the way down to Little Rock, Arkansas, forecasters said.

“We’ve had river highs of 44.9 feet in places,” said Cooper of the Arkansas River. “We’re blowing through records.”

In Tulsa, Oklahoma’s second largest city, Mayor G.T. Bynum warned that the city’s levees were being tested “in a way that they have never been before.”

He said the 20-mile (32 km) levee system, which protects some 10,000 people, was working as designed so far and being patrolled around the clock by the Oklahoma National Guard.

At least six people have died in the latest round of flooding and storms in Oklahoma, according to the state’s Department of Health.

More than 300 tornadoes have touched down in the Midwest in the past two weeks. Tornadoes pulverized buildings in western Ohio on Monday, killing one person and injuring scores.

In Louisiana, the Mississippi River was also at record flood levels due to record-breaking rainfalls this spring, forecasters said.

Trump authorized emergency aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the state late on Wednesday.

In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the Mississippi rose above flood stage in early January and has remained there since, forecasters said.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Rich McKay in Atlanta, and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

Floods stall fertilizer shipments in latest blow to U.S. farmers

FILE PHOTO: The contents of grain silos which burst from flood damage are shown in Fremont County Iowa, U.S., March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Polansek

By Karl Plume

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Farm supplier CHS Inc has dozens of loaded barges trapped on the flood-swollen Mississippi River near St. Louis – about 500 miles from the company’s two Minnesota distribution hubs.

The barges can’t move – or get crucial nutrients to corn farmers for the spring planting season – because river locks on the main U.S. artery for grain and fertilizer have been shuttered for weeks. High water presents a hazard for boats, barges and lock equipment.

Railroads have also been plagued by delays from winter weather and flooding in the western Midwest, further disrupting agricultural supply chains in the nation’s breadbasket.

FILE PHOTO: Flood damage is shown in this aerial photo in southwestern Iowa, U.S., March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Polansek/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Flood damage is shown in this aerial photo in southwestern Iowa, U.S., March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Polansek/File Photo

The transportation woes are the latest headache for a U.S. agricultural sector reeling from years of slumping profits and the U.S.-China trade war, and they threaten to cut the number of acres of corn and wheat that can be planted this year.

The shipping delays follow months of bad weather in the rural Midwest, including a “bomb cyclone” that flooded at least 1 million acres (405,000 hectares) of farmland last month and a record-breaking April snow storm.

“Our barges are a long way from where we need them in the upper Midwest,” said Gary Halvorson, senior vice president of agronomy at CHS. “We really don’t think that any rail line will be at their preferred service rate until summer.”

Agricultural retailers rely on barges and trains to resupply distribution warehouses across the farm belt. But river flooding has delayed the seasonal reopening of the northern reaches of the Mississippi River to barge traffic. The latest National Weather Service river forecasts suggest one of the river’s southernmost locks could remain closed until at least the first week of May.

FALLING PROFITS, PRODUCTION

Reduced or poorly timed fertilizer applications can hurt yields, potentially denting this year’s U.S. farm profits, which are already predicted to be about half of their 2013 peak, according to the latest U.S. government forecast. Delayed shipments can also mean lost sales for farm suppliers and higher demurrage penalties, or late-return charges, on stalled barges and rail cars.

CHS, one of the largest publicly traded U.S. agriculture suppliers, said this month cited poor weather as a key reason for a $8.9 million drop in agricultural profits during its fiscal second quarter.

Agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland Co said severe weather and flooding would cut its first-quarter profit by $50 million to $60 million while DowDuPont said flooding would slash first-quarter profits in its agriculture division by 25 percent.

Fertilizer producers such as Nutrien Ltd, Mosaic Co and Yara International also lost sales due to bad weather in the fourth quarter of last year and first quarter of this year. Mosaic announced last month that it would cut U.S. phosphate fertilizer production by 300,000 tonnes for the spring season due to poor weather and large inventories left over from the fall.

Farm retailers such as CHS and privately held Growmark may see additional losses through the spring season as the tighter planting window limits the application services they provide, according to CoBank analyst Will Secor.

SCRAMBLING TO PROTECT CROP YIELDS

Farmers are not expected to skip nitrogen fertilizer applications entirely, which would cause yields to drop by about half, according to Purdue University agronomist Bob Nielsen. But higher nutrient costs could have growers applying less-than-optimal amounts.

Some farmers could shift from corn to soybeans, which can be planted later and require fewer fertilizer applications. But soybeans will continue to face uncertain demand as long as the U.S. and top buyer China remain locked in a trade war.

“Right now my plan is to plant more corn because the price of beans is so low,” said Don Batie, a farmer near Lexington, Nebraska.

The weather problems started last autumn, a period when some farmers treat fields after harvesting in preparation for the following spring. But wet weather prevented fall fertilizer applications, and an exceptionally snowy winter in many areas slowed or halted winter field work.

More recent storms have threatened to narrow the limited spring window for field treatments.

“When you add to it this re-supply constraint of not being able to move barges up the Mississippi, it puts us in a precarious position,” said Kreg Ruhl, manager for crop nutrients division at Growmark, the country’s third-largest agriculture retailer in terms of revenue.

PRICES RISING

Retail fertilizer prices have started rising in parts of the Midwest and are likely to rise further as local supplies are depleted and retailers scramble to resupply.

In Iowa, the top U.S. corn producing state, the price of the common fertilizer urea was up 20 percent in late April from a year ago, and anhydrous ammonia was up 27 percent. Both hit their highest early spring levels in three years, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

Without timely barge deliveries, CHS will lean on its rail network that brings imported supplies from Galveston, Texas, to any of the 29 rail hubs it owns in places like Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Marshall, Minnesota; and Minot, North Dakota.

Higher U.S. fertilizer prices and strong demand from other countries could help producers such as Nutrien, Mosaic and Yara recover some recent profit weakness in upcoming quarters.

For farmers and fertilizer retailers, however, uncertain fertilizer deliveries will likely weigh on agricultural markets through the planting season.

“We’re doing our very best to make sure that our retail network is supplied,” said CHS’s Halvorson.

(Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago Editing by Brian Thevenot and Caroline Stauffer)

Five dead in storms in U.S. South as floods continue

SHREVEPORT, La. (Reuters) – The death toll from storms in Southern U.S. states rose to five as storm-weary residents of Louisiana and Mississippi watched for more flooding on Monday from drenching rains that inundated homes, washed out roads and prompted thousands of rescues.

Flood waters across Louisiana were blamed for four deaths and damage to at least 5,000 homes, and one person drowned in a flooded area in Oklahoma last week. Flood warnings were in effect as rivers, bayous and creeks stayed high after storms dumped more than 20 inches of rain in some places.

In Louisiana, Harold Worsham, 78, drowned in Saline Bayou when his boat capsized as he tried to remove items from a home as waters rose on Saturday night, according to the Natchitoches Parish Sheriff’s Office.

Many rivers and lakes in northern Louisiana have risen to historic levels and homes there face the threat of yet more flooding, said Matt Hemingway, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Shreveport.

“It’s going to take some time for them to fall back down below flood stage,” he said. “Some folks may be in this situation not just days but weeks.”

Authorities and meteorologists described the flooding as some of the worst seen in the region apart from that spawned by hurricanes. President Barack Obama declared flooding in Louisiana a major disaster on Sunday, activating federal aid.

The Louisiana National Guard said it had rescued more than 3,000 people and 300 pets.

Weldon Thomas, who lives in the Lake Bistineau area, said the flood was devastating for many of his neighbors.

“This is the worst flood that these people have ever seen, and some of them have been there 60 or 70 years,” he said. “It’s a tragic situation for everybody.”

In Bossier Parish, several feet of water covered low parts of normally busy Highway 71 and water rose to the top of road signs. Stranded livestock huddled on patches of dry land.

Emergency officials in Mississippi said flooding threatened to close interstates 59 and 10, which they warned could result in major traffic congestion.

As of Sunday afternoon, 185 homes were destroyed or significantly damaged in Mississippi and about 650 more sustained minor damage, according to the state.

Mandatory evacuation orders issued by authorities in the Texas county of Newton, which borders Louisiana, remained in effect for people living near the Sabine River over flood dangers.

(Additional reporting and writing by Colleen Jenkins and Curtis Skinner; Editing by Dan Grebler and James Dalgleish)

Threat of Major Flooding Shifts Down Mississippi River

Several communities in the central United States were coping with major flooding on Monday morning as the same deadly floodwaters that devastated parts of Missouri moved downstream.

The National Weather Service issued flood warnings all along the lower Ohio, Mississippi and Arkansas rivers as rising waters threatened countless homes and businesses. In certain communities, waters were expected to continue to climb throughout the month before cresting.

One week after a powerful winter storm dumped 6 to 12 inches of rain across much of the region, waters had yet to fully recede from some of the communities they impacted most.

In greater St. Louis, where often-historic flooding forced evacuations and shut down a bustling stretch of Interstate 44, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said minor flooding was still occurring along parts of the Meramec and Mississippi rivers. Water levels had receded from their record heights in the Missouri communities of Valley Park and Arnold, according to the NOAA, though the flooding had yet to fully stop as of Monday. It could be Saturday before the Meramec finally dropped below flood stage in Arnold., the NOAA said.

Over the weekend, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s announced the federal government approved his request to expedite relief efforts after “fast-rising flood water inundated several thousands homes and business and left behind a trail of destruction, debris and refuse” in greater St. Louis, according to a news release. The governor, who had declared a state of emergency and mobilized the National Guard, said the federal aid would help facilitate the cleanup and recovery process.

As some communities began to clean up, others remained partially underwater.

The NOAA reported there was major flooding occurring at 25 river gauges on Monday morning, while another 197 were experiencing minor or moderate flooding. Almost all of them were in the Mississippi River watershed, with downstream communities at risk of water levels rising further.

Major flooding was already occurring in Cape Girardeau, Missouri and the Illinois communities of Thebes and Chester, the NOAA said, and it could be several days before the flooding reduces in severity. According to Cape Girardeau’s official blog, about 25 homes in the city were either flooded or rendered inaccessible by floodwaters that had closed several of the city’s roads.

As the waters left Missouri, they were expected to arrive in Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana.

In Natchez, Mississippi, some 580 miles south of St. Louis, the NOAA reported the Mississippi River was already at 49.4 feet, causing minor flooding. The river was expected to rise at least 10 more feet before peaking at 60 feet on January 17, which would spur major flooding issues.

Other areas at risk of major flooding include the Mississippi communities of Vicksburg and Greenville and Arkansas City, Arkansas, according to NOAA projections. The governor of Mississippi, Phil Bryant, preemptively declared a state of emergency amid the threat of floods.

“We are told this flood will be just below the historic record flood of 2011,” Bryant said in a news release. “Our citizens have time to prepare and should begin taking actions now.”

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson’s office said the governor has already declared 38 of the state’s 75 counties disaster areas as a result of storm and flooding damage, and noted the governor could add more counties to the list if the damage calls for the list to be expanded.

The Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness has said it would monitor levels of the Red and Mississippi rivers and assist any affected communities.

Oil Spill Closes Mississippi River

Parts of the Mississippi River were shut down Sunday and remained closed Monday after a weekend collision spilled gallons of sweet crude oil into the river. 

A 65-mile stretch of the river is closed to traffic and a Coast Guard spokesman said they are working with local officials and cleanup crews to see when the river might be able to re-open to traffic.

As of Sunday night, 26 vessels were waiting to go up or down river.  Officials stopped barge traffic in an attempt to keep the oil from spreading in the river and to keep the oil from contaminating passing vessels.

A barge being pushed by a tugboat collided with another barge carrying grain to cause the spill.

Public drinking water intakes on the river were shut and local officials say they were closed in time to keep the oil from contaminating drinking water systems.

The Port of New Orleans is closed because of the spill although two cruise ships were permitted to leave the ports to being their sea voyages.

Heavy Rains Bring Flooding To Upper Midwest

Rivers from North Dakota to St. Louis are being issued flood warnings after a series of heavy thunderstorms dumped significant rainfall across the upper Midwest Wednesday.

The National Weather Service said more than 5 inches of rain fell in many areas and it was likely to have more rain through the night Wednesday into Thursday. However, local officials in parts of North Dakota reported 8 inches of rain and Iowa officials reported up to 7 inches. Continue reading