Drought hits Mississippi shipping, even after hurricane
MEMPHIS, Tennessee (AFP) - When it comes to manoeuvring a powerful towboat in as little as four feet of muddy water, it helps to know the Mississippi River as intimately as Arthur Ward does.
"It's a slow process," the 72-year-old captain of the tricolor Ricky Robinson towboat explained as he delicately shunted utilitarian green and brown freight barges around the port of Memphis.
"You have to go about half-speed," he told AFP in his vessel's panoramic, air-conditioned wheelhouse, "and you have to stay in the centre (of the channel) or else you'll knock off a rudder or pick up a rope." Drought across much of the United States this summer has seen the mighty Mississippi - a strategic waterway that runs 4,070km from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico - drop to its lowest levels in years.
So drastic is the problem that even this past week's downpours from Hurricane Isaac - downgraded to a tropical depression as it crept north from the Gulf of Mexico - was unlikely to make much of an impact, officials said.