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Isaac shuts down elevators and halts barges

US grain elevators on the Gulf coast were shut and barges carrying grain and other goods on the lower Mississippi River were halted in preparation for tropical storm Isaac, which is expected to make landfall late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

Archer Daniels Midland closed four grain export elevators in New Orleans, while Cargill said elevators in Westwego and Reserve, Louisiana, will be closed. Bunge Ltd is shutting down an export facility in Destrehan, Louisiana.

Isaac, if it stays on its current track, is due to slam into the Gulf Coast between Florida and Louisiana by Tuesday night or early Wednesday, the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

In its latest advisory, the National Hurricane Center said the storm was not expected to strengthen beyond Category 1, the weakest type on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity.

The Mississippi River is a major shipping channel to move grain produced in the Midwest farm belt to export terminals at the Gulf of Mexico, where it is then shipped worldwide.

Grain movement is set to pick up in the coming weeks as Midwest farmers - which produce 75% of the country's corn and soybeans - begin harvesting in earnest.

The harvest is already underway in southern areas of the United States, the world's top grain exporter, increasing supplies available for export.

Barges stopped
The Crescent River Port Pilots' Association, in consultation with the US Coast Guard, suspended barge traffic and the movement of vessels on the river from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to the U.S. Gulf .

The suspension of barge traffic costs facilities that move cargo on the river system $300 million a day, said Gibbs, who predicted vessel movement will not return to normal before Thursday.

More than 100 vessels, many of them bulk carriers transporting goods such as grain, are affected by the restrictions.

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