(Reuters) - The U.S. Coast Guard reopened a stretch of the lower Mississippi River on Tuesday after refloating a barge tow that had run aground south of Memphis, a sign that the low-water issues that have snarled shipping traffic further upriver were spreading.
The tow containing 18 barges ran aground at river mile marker 695 near Robinsonville, Mississippi, early on Tuesday and halted navigation for several hours, a Coast Guard spokesman said.
A queue of 12 upriver vessels and 23 downriver vessels had formed during the closure, but the traffic has since been cleared, he said.
The Mississippi River was expected to drop to record- or near-record lows this month amid the worst U.S. drought in 56 years, threatening to severely restrict or halt navigation along a busy stretch from St. Louis to Cairo, Illinois.
Some 55 to 65 percent of U.S. grain and soybean exports are shipped from production areas in the Midwest to export terminals at the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Coal, petroleum, fertilizer, steel and other products are also shipping on the river.
Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago; editing by Matthew Lewis