Sandbars no one can remember seeing above water are visible from the wheelhouse of the Capt. Bill Stewart as it churns past Hanging Dog Bluff on the Mississippi River south of St. Louis, a warning of more treacherous conditions ahead.

“I’ve been out here 46 years and I’ve never seen it this bad,” Darrell Alford, the 66-year-old captain of the tow boat, said as he steered the vessel. “You’re on edge all the time.”

The worst drought in 50 years has cut the river depth by two-thirds in some places, creating a low-water choke point between St. Louis and Cairo, Illinois, for the $7 billion worth of grain, coal and other commodities that typically move this time of year.

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