CHICAGO (Reuters) - The Mississippi River closed to vessel traffic north of St. Louis on Wednesday after barges carrying loads of corn broke free from one another and struck a river lock, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said.
The accident took place at Lock and Dam 25 near Winfield, Missouri, and involved a vessel towing 12 barges south on the river, said Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Scott Ross.
“It’s a slowdown,” he said. “Commerce can’t go north or south.”
The Mississippi River and its tributaries are a key pipeline for moving grain from Midwest farms south to export terminals along the Gulf Coast, where about 60 percent of U.S. grain and soybean exports exit the country.
The closure at Lock 25 sent spot barge freight rates sharply higher on Midwest rivers, barge brokers said. Spot barges on the Mississippi River at St. Louis jumped 35 points of tariff, while rates at Davenport, Iowa, north of the closure, jumped 85 points.
Workers were inspecting damage at the lock, and the Army Corps of Engineers estimated it would reopen to traffic at about 3 p.m. CDT.
However, operations to recover the barges are expected to start on Thursday and could last several days, according to the Army Corps. The lock will be closed during the recovery operations, which will take place during daylight hours, the Army Corps said.
Additional reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago; Editing by Tom Brown and Sandra Maler