ST. LOUIS – A lack of rain in the United States’ midsection in recent months has reduced water levels in some of the nation’s biggest rivers, exposing sandbars that experts warn could be deadly quicksand.
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. The sandbars that are revealed look like beaches, inviting boaters, fishermen and hikers to venture out. Experts agree that can be a very bad idea.
Steve Barry, emergency management chief for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office in Memphis, Tenn., said the exposed sand looks dry on top but is really saturated mud. Combined with the undercurrent of water in the fast-moving rivers, that creates a true danger.
“If it’s really wet sand and there’s flowing water underneath it, that’s what quicksand is,” Barry said. “The other issue is that as the river flows by, it undercuts. You think you’re on a sandbar, but you’re basically on a ledge. You put enough weight on it and you end up in the river.”
The last time the Mississippi and Missouri were this low was 1988. There were at least seven deaths along the Mississippi blamed on drought-weakened sandbars in 1988, the Corps of Engineers said.
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.