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Low water strands boats on Mississippi River

The Coast Guard said 97 boats and barges were waiting for passage along an 11-mile stretch of the Mississippi River that has been closed because of low water levels.

Coast Guard spokesman Ryan Tippets told The Associated Press on Monday that the stretch of river near Greenville, Miss., has been closed intermittently since Aug. 11, when a vessel ran aground.

Tippets told the AP that the area is being surveyed for dredging and that a Coast Guard boat is replacing eight navigation markers. He said 40 northbound vessels and 57 southbound vessels were stranded and waiting for passage Monday afternoon.

Farther upriver, near Memphis, Tenn., there have been multiple groundings because of low water levels, according to CBS News.

A lack of rain in recent months in the United States’ midsection has reduced water levels in some of the nation's biggest rivers, exposing sandbars that experts warn could be deadly quicksand, the St. Louis AP bureau reported Monday.

Rivers such as the Mississippi and Missouri are typically low in August, but this year's drought has them at their lowest point in decades, exposing sandbars that look like beaches.

Steve Barry, emergency management chief for the Corps of Engineers office in Memphis, told the AP that the exposed sand looks dry on top, but is actually saturated mud. Combined with the undercurrent of water in the fast-moving rivers, it creates a true danger.

"If it's really wet sand and there's flowing water underneath it, that's what quicksand is," Barry told the service.

Earlier this month an 11-year-old girl had to be rescued after sand swallowed her up to her waist while she and her family fished along the Mississippi near New Madrid in southeast Missouri. Firefighter Jim Russell said the girl began to sink, and the more she struggled, the faster she descended.

Click here for the story on the boat backup and click here for the threat of sandbars.