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FLOODING IS YET TO PEAK, BUT COST KEEPS RISING

A study puts losses from Memphis to the gulf at up to $9B.

New York Times

The swollen Mississippi River, already spilling over into wide swaths of the Mississippi Delta, has dealt the South a heavy economic blow that is seeping into every possible corner of the region's commercial and agricultural life.

From Tennessee to Louisiana, the arteries and tributaries that normally supply the lifeblood of trade and business to the communities along the river's banks are now paralyzing them. The engorged river has disrupted waterway commerce, delaying barge traffic and forcing some cargo to be trucked overland. Grain elevators, a crucial link to the nation's grain exports, have been swamped. Early corn and soybean plantings on delta farms are submerged.

Tens of thousands of people are unemployed, shut out of jobs at establishments that are literally under water. State and local government coffers, already strained by the need for belt-tightening because of the economic downturn, may lose many millions of dollars in revenue from tourism and taxes.

In interviews, economists, farmers and industry officials said they expected hundreds of millions of dollars in damages including crop and infrastructure destruction in communities along the 740 miles of river that meanders from Memphis to New Orleans.

A study released last week by the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University said the cost to the Memphis area, including the city and the 630,000 people in 18 counties that feed into the urban area in jobs or spending, could reach $753 million.

An author of the study, Michael Hicks, said there were losses to the region's consumer base and trade disruptions in a region that connects the manufacturing heartland of the Midwest with routes traveling between the east and the west.

"I am going to estimate in the $6 billion to $9 billion range for total damages from Memphis southward to the gulf," said Hicks.

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